On Growing Up in a Chinatown Store
Curator: Alice Wu
Date: 4/27 – 10/27/19
Location: CCC Design Store, 750 Kearny St. 3rd Floor. CA 94108
On Growing Up in a Chinatown Store is styled as a hybrid of gallery and retail, featuring the art of Leland Wong, selections of vintage inventory from his father’s Chinatown curio shop, and installations by Amy Li Projects, Lions Den, Choose Chinatown, Ooga Booga, and Pearl River Mart. Leland’s artwork and the legacy of Fueng Wah Company reflect a personal history of San Francisco Chinatown, shown in fellowship with innovative art and design-focused enterprises in New York and Los Angeles Chinatowns. This CCC Design Store exhibit invites visitors to discover the backstories of these spaces, and shop from a hand-picked selection of art and design goods.
Leland Wong (b. 1952) is best known for his hand-screenprinted posters, illustrations, and photographs focusing on Asian American life. He was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where his father operated Fueng Wah Company (1942-1970), a Grant Avenue curio shop for tourists. The Wong family lived in a loft in the store. Alongside the souvenir trinkets, novelty items, and eclectic Asian imports, the elder Wong sold his own calligraphy, prints, and paintings at the shop. Leland helped his parents run Fueng Wah until the shop’s 1970 closure. Leland cites his father’s encouragement and the experience of growing up in the store as important in his decision to become an artist.
While the Fueng Wah novelty items surrounding him in his youth had a great influence on Leland’s waggish aesthetic, his experiences as a young man track through the years of the Civil Rights Movement, urban riots, Vietnam War, and college campus protests. Increasingly conscious of the social problems in Chinatown and among Asian Americans, Leland became deeply involved with community organizations such as Chinatown North Beach Youth Council, Kearny Street Workshop, and Japantown Arts and Media. Leland created artwork to promote their events and to express social justice concerns. He has now been active as an artist for over five decades.
On Growing Up in a Chinatown Store celebrates the artist as entrepreneur, independent retail, intergenerational dialogue, and perspectives from Chinatowns across the United States:
Amy Li Projects (NYC) –
Amy Leo’s art gallery endeavor Amy Li Projects cohabited with her father’s He Zhen Snap Button Co. ground floor storefront from 2013-2018. Amy exhibited artwork from local and international artists. He Zhen began in the early 1980s on Elizabeth Street, in an area full of sweatshops yet where Mr. Li’s shop was the only Chinatown operation with the equipment to apply snap buttons to textiles. He Zhen later moved to 166 Mott Street, where it remained until Mr. Li’s 2018 retirement. Here, Amy Li Projects features Brooklyn artist Diana Ho, aka From Here to Sunday. Lions Den and Choose Chinatown (LA) -
Ray Tseng grew up in San Gabriel and ran the cult sneaker store Lions Den from 2005-2010 in Los Angeles. Chinatown. He also co-founded another retail venture, Choose Chinatown. Both stores were pioneers of the independent retail landscape. Ooga Booga (LA) –
Since 2004, Wendy Yao has operated Ooga Booga from a tiny space in a Chinatown mall and continues to garner an outsized international reputation for the shop’s selection of books, zines, and art objects. Pearl River Mart (NYC) –
This iconic Asian emporium started as a "friendship store" in the early 1970s when U.S.-China diplomatic relations were frozen and trade between the two countries was embargoed. Over the next five decades, owners Ming Yi and Ching Yeh Chen built Pearl River Mart into one of NYC's most beloved shopping institutions. Now helmed by daughter-in-law Joanne Kwong with three locations in downtown Manhattan, the store features innovative products created by Asian American entrepreneurs, an art gallery for Asian American artists, and event programming including talks, tastings and performances.
Wing On Wo & Co. and W.O.W. Project (NYC) –
Mei Lum is a community activist and the fifth generation owner of her family's over-century-old porcelain shop. W.O.W. has recently established a community initiative called W.O.W. Project which hosts an artist residency, youth programs and ongoing free community events in the storefront space. These enterprises are grounded in highly individual aesthetic visions inseparable from an emphasis on their communities. Their storefronts have served as vibrant and vital spaces of discovery for visitors to connect with both local and transnational culture. Just as Leland Wong’s art practice has prioritized representation of Asian American culture, so too have these New York and Los Angeles sites centered their own art practices and retail businesses on engaging, sustaining and showcasing Asian American community values.
On Growing Up in a Chinatown Store was developed in dialogue with Present Tense 2019: Task of Remembrance. Task of Remembrance brings together projects that reflect on the complexities, gravity, and responsibility of remembering.
About the Curator:
Alice Wu is an artist whose practice spans fashion, sculpture, performance, and curatorial projects. Most recently she oversaw the Art Sales Program at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. Previously, she has worked for the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, and curated an exhibition series at Legion’s former Chinatown storefront. In 2017 Alice curated Free Trade, the first project for the newly rebranded CCC Design Store. She co-founded Feral Childe, a clothing, textiles, and accessories line produced in New York City and sold through retailers in the U.S. and abroad from 2002-2015. Alice received an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Yale University.
Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco
Chinese Culture Center (CCC), under the aegis of the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, is a non-profit organization established in 1965.
CCC elevates underserved communities and gives voice to equality through education and contemporary art. Rooted in San Francisco’s Chinatown, CCC creates spaces for contemporary artistic work, education, and creative engagement that build healthy and thriving communities and advance a plurality of diasporic voices.
CCC is one of the leading cultural and socially-oriented art centers in San Francisco, drawing from a network of 500+ artists. Recently, CCC’s exhibition XianRui: 10 Years—one of the only exhibition series in the United States devoted to supporting artists from the Chinese diaspora—was chosen as one of the Top 20 Exhibits in America for 2018 by Hyperallergic. CCC’s latest show, Episode—Wesley Tongson: The Journey, a solo exhibition of the important Hong Kong ink artist’s oeuvre, was selected as one of Artforum’s Critic’s Picks for San Francisco.
CCC Design Store
CCC Design Store (Instagram @cccdesignstore) is the Chinese Culture Center’s unique store featuring fresh curated pieces made by contemporary artists and designers. Visitors will find local and international, one-of-a-kind and limited edition art pieces, and a creative space for pop-up events and exhibitions from the artist community. The artist and design-driven store’s approach prprovide platform for emerging artists and Asian American designers while also supporting the CCC’s mission to uplift the community.