The Museum of Chinese in America

Founded in 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States.

Museum as Material: Curator Herb Tam on Lee Mingwei

In advance of the forthcoming exhibition, Lee Mingwei: The Travelers and The Quartet Project,  Curator Herb Tam discusses how Lee’s work re-imagines what a museum could be. The exhibition opens with a public reception on Thursday, October 20, 7-9pm. For more information visit

A page from Book no. 50

Excerpt from Museum as Material: The Travelers and the Radical Domesticity of Lee Mingwei

I am writing this in the days after New York State passed historic legislation legally recognizing gay marriage, throwing light onto a broad shift in the nature of domestic spaces that has been developing since World War II. As we prepare to install Lee Mingwei’s exhibition at MOCA, I find myself reflecting on what his work says about the role and status of museums today, how it relates to the idea of home, and what his commissioned project, The Travelers, will literally and conceptually do to our space.

The Museum of Chinese in America, having begun without exhibit facilities in 1980 as the Chinatown History Project, and after inhabiting a warren of rooms at P.S. 23 in Chinatown for more than 20 years, moved in 2009 to its current 215 Centre Street location. The new site, a former machinery repair shop, was designed by Maya Lin and refers to the sacred domestic space of the home.  Indeed, the central area in the museum alludes to the courtyards that are commonly seen in traditional homes throughout China.

In 2010, Lee was asked to create a site-specific project inspired and informed by MOCA, our new building, and our work to describe the history and culture of Chinese experience in America. In past work, Lee has challenged artistic and social conventions. In 1999, he and artist Virgil Wong (members of the collective PaperVeins) staged an elaborate virtual project that cast Lee as a pregnant man.  Inviting Lee, whose work typically demands personal engagement with the artist himself or with a condition he has set, has forced MOCA to confront its own shifting identity as a museum settling into a new space. The project Lee conceived of, The Travelers, imagines the museum as a home, just like Maya Lin’s design intimates. But The Travelers does so by raising questions about the expectations of our space and by highlighting shifts in the meaning and function of both museums and homes.

In addition to its references to Chinese American experience and to this particular museum, it is instructive to see The Travelers as arising from a tradition of artistic activity that seeks to destabilize institutional spaces. For more than a decade, Lee has done so by creating situations that relocate the field of domestic experience into the logistics of museums. If both Lee’s body of work including The Travelers and MOCA refer in different ways to home, we should ask what this space signifies today.

A contributor shares her story.

The full version of this essay is on the exhibition’s poster, which will be available at the Museum.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Lee Mingwei’s Blog for The Travelers, , ,

The Travelers Giveaway: Exclusive MOCA Traveling Tote!

We’re kicking off a contest series for The Travelers, an ongoing project and upcoming exhibition by artist Lee Mingwei, who custom-made 100 notebooks that are being circulated internationally. The books are meant to travel for one calendar year, passed on like chain letters, documenting stories. Participants are asked to write stories about the concept of “leaving home,” which will be available for visitors to read once the project has reached completion and is installed at MOCA.

Get involved on the web! This month’s question:

Where do you currently call home? How did you or your family first arrive there/here?

Leave your story in the comments below and be eligible to win this exclusive MOCA traveling tote! Please include your e-mail address in the appropriate field when you respond and submit your answer before next Monday, June 13, 2011. MOCA Staff will choose a lucky winner who responds with the most compelling story! Open to international readers.

Happy traveling!

This post is part of the blog series by artist Lee Mingwei, whose art project The Travelers, a MOCA commission, is ongoing through September 12, 2011.  In the project, Mingwei invites participants to write down their stories of “leaving home;” in this blog series, we turn to Mingwei and ask him to share his.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Lee Mingwei’s Blog for The Travelers, , , , ,

Q&A with Lee Mingwei, Part 1: Leaving Home

Courtesy of Lee StudioThis post is Part 1 of a Q&A series with artist Lee Mingwei. Learn more about our ongoing exhibition, The Travelers, here.

(Image courtesy of Lee Studio)

Tell us about your story of leaving home.

I left Taiwan right before my 13th birthday, heading toward another island called the Dominican Republic.  My parents wanted me to leave the country because they didn’t like the idea of me doing military service under a government that was against their political beliefs.  When I arrived in Santo Domingo, I was so taken by the natural surroundings: endless fields of coconut trees, mango groves and sparkling white beaches.  Also, everyone was speaking Spanish, which was a completely foreign language to me. All these fresh new things made  the first departure from my home much less scary and was, actually, quite exhilarating, come to think of it.

What did you carry in your suitcase when you first left home for a long term stay in a country?

I don’t remember any particular item except that my mum placed a cook book by Fu PeiMei, the Taiwanese version of Julia Child.  Oh, yes, other items were several books by San Mao, which were about her life living in the Canary Islands and the Sahara Desert with her husband Jose.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Lee Mingwei’s Blog for The Travelers, , , , ,

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