SoHo’s Asian Import Store Takes Center Stage with Dazzling Art Showcase
Amidst the seasonal closure of conventional art galleries, an extraordinary and enthralling art exhibition remarkably commands attention in an unprecedented and atypical venue. The exhibition titled “Just Between Us: From the Archives of Arlan Huang” is making its debut in the basement of Pearl River Mart, a renowned 50-year-old establishment in SoHo that specializes in Asian imports.
Putting the Spotlight on Arlan Huang’s Artistry and Memorabilia
Nestled within the confines of Pearl River Mart, “Just Between Us: From the Archives of Arlan Huang” astutely reveals a meticulously curated collection of artworks and artifacts meticulously sourced from Arlan Huang’s personal inventory. Notably an artist in his own right and the visionary behind Squid Frames, a framing company, Huang’s influence spans two significant Asian American art collectives: Basement Workshop during the 1970s and ’80s, and Godzilla Asian American Arts Network in the ’90s.
Unveiling the Vision Behind Pearl River Mart’s Exhibition Endeavors
Initiated by Joanne Kwong in 2016, the son-in-law of Pearl River Mart’s founders Ming Yi and Ching Yeh Chen, the exhibition program at Pearl River Mart boldly pushes boundaries. When visitors embark on their journey, they traverse through vibrant retail displays featuring paper fans, beverages, delectable treats, and a variety of everyday items. Kwong eloquently elaborated, “It’s accessible to anyone in the retail shop, casting a wider net for engagement compared to traditional galleries.”
Breaking Artistic Norms with a Unique Exhibition
Departing with a purpose from the established norms of art exhibitions, “Just Between Us” emerges as a distinctive artistic journey, masterfully harmonizing instantly recognizable artworks such as prints, paintings, and other creations. Impressively, this is seamlessly interwoven with carefully chosen artifacts that vividly offer a glimpse into the life story of Arlan Huang.
From Artifacts to Cherished Family Portraits
From these cherished keepsakes, the collection takes a transformative journey through an eclectic array of miniatures spanning diverse artistic mediums. Among these standout pieces, one can appreciate a series of poignant black-and-white photographs by Hoty Soohoo, beautifully capturing intimate moments of Huang and his fellow Basement Workshop members in 1971. Equally captivating is a visually captivating 1991 calendar page crafted by Martin Wong for the Lower East Side Printshop. Not to be missed is Byron Kim’s significant contribution to the print portfolio “From Basement to Godzilla” in 1999, as well as Danielle Wu’s evocative acrylic still life “Arlan’s Oranges” from 2020.
Reflecting on MOCA’s Dilemma and the Birth of “Just Between Us”
The genesis of “Just Between Us” is indelibly tied to the unanticipated collapse of another artistic endeavor—the unfortunate cancellation of the 2021 Godzilla retrospective at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA).
A Unique Showcase Celebrating a Singular Approach
In striking contrast to the grandeur of MOCA’s aspirations, the exhibition at Pearl River Mart pays heartfelt homage to an unpretentious method of art curation. Within the gallery, the artworks are thoughtfully arranged in a closely-knit sequence, positioned at eye level. This intentional arrangement forms an unbroken visual narrative that gracefully winds around the gallery walls, symbolizing their interdependence in an unspoken yet powerful manner.
Navigating Curatorial Challenges to Deliver Unique Perspectives
In a harmonious collaborative effort, co-curators Howie Chen and Wu deftly infuse their distinct viewpoints, thereby enriching the exhibition’s narrative. Notably, Huang’s direct involvement in the project provides yet another layer of perspective and insight.
Exploring Archives from Different Vantage Points
Huang’s meticulously preserved archives, providing a window into the pre-Internet era, offer a fascinating glimpse into the diverse methods artists ingeniously employed to communicate during that unique period.
1970s Activism and Unity Through Art
The exhibition commendably amplifies Huang’s activism during the 1970s, artfully showcased through a curated selection of posters dating back to 1977. These striking visuals powerfully underline the vibrant and pivotal participation of Asian Americans in significant events such as African Liberation Day and May Day protests.
Cross-Generational Collaboration and Community at Pearl River Market
The triumph of Pearl River Mart poignantly epitomizes the concerted and enduring efforts of multiple generations. Kwong passionately underscores this inherent characteristic, duly highlighting the sustained involvement of her septuagenarian and octogenarian in-laws in ardently upholding the legacy of the establishment.
Securing the Legacy of Artifacts for Posterity
Chen’s passionate exploration of artists like Huang culminated in an eloquent anthology centered around Godzilla. With an unwavering commitment to ensuring the enduring impact of the exhibition, Wu, Chen, and Huang meticulously crafted a comprehensive catalog for the Pearl River show.
Preserving History Through Personal Bonds
Chen’s profound curatorial undertaking stands as an eloquent testament to preserving historical records in a manner that reverently retains a profound and palpable connection to the individuals who lived through those transformative times.
A Personal Legacy and an Inspiring Role Model
For Wu, the exhibition gracefully occupies a deeply personal realm, resonating with heartfelt significance. Arlan Huang’s journey serves as an unwavering source of inspiration, profoundly illustrating that carving a cherished niche in the art world inherently need not adhere to rigidly predefined norms.
In Wu’s own poignant words, “[Arlan] spurred others and embodied a moral and ethical life that many would regard as idealistic or unattainable. He demonstrated to me that it was indeed feasible.”