Even before entering the current exhibition in this back gallery, a sweet vanilla scent beckons from beyond the adjoining galleries. Upon arrival the source is clear: a large installation consisting of hundreds of fortune cookies that are piled in the form of a miniature peaked mountain, through which train tracks disappear into and emerge from on the other side. The work, titled “Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain)” by Chinese-American artist Hung Liu, is a central component of the thought provoking exhibition “The Other Side: Chinese and Mexican Immigration to America.” “Jiu Jin Shan’” overtly references the hard labor of the Chinese immigrants on the transcontinental railroad during the later 19th century. The hundreds of nearly identical crescent-shaped treats suggest the massive numbers of workers employed, as well as their relative anonymity. Three portraits of historic women from this period counteract the notion of lost individuality, each with a unique color palette, floral motifs and symbols associated with their Chinese heritage. Opposite these gestural portraits, Zhi Lin’s large-scale abstract paintings heighten the sense of rhythmic momentum associated with the locomotive through vertical patterns repeated across the paper’s surface. In the adjacent gallery the topic shifts from a focus on the occupation of immigrants to the border itself, this time looking south to the Mexican/American border. Three artists — Andrea Bowers, Margarita Cabrera and Tony de los Reyes — tackle the subject in terms ranging from conceptual to aesthetic. Diverse in their approach, the artists are united in their determination to underscore the complexity of the past and current state of affairs.
Originally published in ArtScene (July/August 2014)