Diplomacy at Yeh Art Gallery / Queens, NY


Christopher K. Ho, Lena Henke, Shahpour Pouyan, Reuven Israel, Alex Hayden, Carla Edwards, Anton Ginzburg, Ryan Flores, Hai-Hsin Huang, Claudia Martínez Garay, and Claudia Peña Salinas

Curated by: Owen Duffy

in the historic Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall at 
8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY, 11439 

QUEENS, NY — The Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery (Yeh Art Gallery) at St. John’s University in New York City announces its fall 2019 exhibition Diplomacy. This exhibition is inspired by the university’s historic Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, which houses the Yeh Art Gallery. Eleven international artists have either created site- responsive works that respond to the building’s unique architecture and Cold War history, or present works that relate to themes the building evokes, namely soft power, national identity, and diplomacy. Participating artists include Christopher K. Ho, Lena Henke, Shahpour Pouyan, Reuven Israel, Alex Hayden, Carla Edwards, Anton Ginzburg, Ryan Flores, Hai-Hsin Huang, Claudia Martínez Garay, and Claudia Peña Salinas. This is the first exhibition curated by newly appointed Director Owen Duffy, as well as the first after extensive gallery renovations. The exhibition will run from September 19 – November 22, 2019. The opening reception will take place on September 19 from 4-7PM. 

On September 6, 1973, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall opened its doors to students at St. John’s University. The New York Times soon heralded the completion of the pagoda- like edifice, which was to house a new Center for Asian Studies, as a “palatial structure straight out of the Forbidden City.” The center’s founder Dr. Paul K.T. Sih then proudly claimed that Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall was “the first building of its kind out of China to incorporate traditional Oriental architecture.” Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall has since become a postmodern landmark on the campus of St. John’s University, with its gleaming marble porch, institutional brick walls, and golden tile roof imported from Taiwan. In another article from 1971, The New York Times couched the pending arrival of the building to St. John’s in a larger historical trajectory; namely, President Nixon’s forthcoming 1972 trip to mainland China, then an unprecedented gesture of diplomacy between the United States and the People’s Republic. 

Named in honor of Sun Yat Sen, a revolutionary and statesman who fought for the unification of modern China (China’s “George Washington” Dr. Sih advised the Times), this historical context frames the building as a form of soft power, a potent cultural symbol of, to quote Dr. Sih, “freedom, independence, and democracy.” This iconic building — and its remarkable context — becomes a generative point of departure for Diplomacy. The artists in this exhibition engage with soft power and national identity, or have created site-sensitive works or installations that relate to the building and its historical context. 

Exhibition highlights include: Christopher K. Ho will unveil his installation Triangle, newly commissioned for Diplomacy, a hybrid between a chinoiserie pagoda and a Christmas tree that plays on the historic 1972 meeting between Nixon and Chairman Mao. Hai-Hsin Huang’s painting Birthday Party (2013) recalls disaster preparedness drills the artist experienced as a child in Taipei — a time filled with geopolitical uncertainty between Taiwan and the mainland. Claudia Peña Salinas addresses “diplomacy” and national identity as they pertain to U.S.—Mexico relations through her monoprint Amistad Dam, which refers to the “friendship” dam dedicated in 1969 by Nixon and Mexican president Gabriel Díaz Ordaz. Ryan Flores will create a series of site-specific installations that relate to the building’s ornament and modularity, as well as the ceramics collection donated to the University on the occasion of its construction and dedication. 

Through a decisively international lens, Diplomacy ultimately celebrates and investigates an architectural icon of St. John’s University and its remarkable history. 

This exhibition is organized by Owen Duffy, Director of the Yeh Art Gallery, with the support of Cassandra Post, Graduate Assistant.