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  • Dec 09, 2020

Artist Sues Museum For Discarding Works

A portrait of DAVID LEW. Photo by

On December 2, Los Angeles- and Detroit-based artist David Lew, also known as Shark Toof, filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, the Chinese American Museum (CAM), and the historic district El Pueblo de Los Ángeles, where CAM is located. Lew claims that these parties wrongfully threw away his site-specific installation of 88 gold-leaf-painted red canvas bags, Shayu De Yi Nian Lai See (Year of the Shark Red Packet) (2018), without his consent in December 2018.

The six months-long group exhibition at CAM in 2018, “Don’t Believe the Hype: L.A Asian Americans in Hip-Hop,” featured Lew’s installation displayed on clothing lines in the museum’s courtyard, to raise awareness of the plights of early Chinese immigrants in the United States who often worked in the laundry business. According to the lawsuit, a city maintenance crew allegedly took down the canvas bags on December 7, two days before the exhibition was meant to end, and threw them out without the supervision of the museum or the El Pueblo management. The museum claims to not have been notified of the removals prior to the event. A week later on December 12, the exhibition’s co-curator Justin Charles Hoover confirmed to Lew in an  email that the bags were disposed of. Out of the 88 bags, 14 were not discarded but had fallen during the show, and were never reinstalled or returned to Lew. CAM has stated that these bags were put into storage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lew is suing the defendants for an undisclosed amount, including compensation for his artworks, after the city and CAM allegedly failed to address his former complaints. Lew claims that the city told him to seek CAM and its insurance carrier regarding his lost works, while CAM redirected him to seek compensation from the city.

Melvin NA Avanzado, the attorney representing CAM, shared in an email with the Los Angeles Times that they are still reviewing the allegations and “look forward to proving that the claims against my client have no merit.” The other defendants have so far not issued a statement.

Ariana Heffner is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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