Queens exhibit honors creators of iconic public artwork from 1980s after its removal from Chinatown

Sandy Kenyon Image
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
New Queens exhibit honors creators of iconic public artwork from 1980s
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It was art that was meant to stand the test of time -- but now it's gone and removed as part of a plan to build a new jail in Chinatown. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

JAMAICA, Queens (WABC) -- An exhibit in Queens is preserving the memories and history of iconic public artwork dating back to the 1980s.

Named after the artists themselves, "Kit-Yin Snyder and Richard Haas" is a new exhibition at the Yeh Art Gallery in Jamaica that shows what's been lost as a result of the city's plan to build a new jail on the grounds of Chinatown's former Manhattan Detention Center.

"My first reaction was 'Why are you doing this?'" said Richard Haas, one of the two artists that the city hired back in 1985.

The commission included his seven-panel mural called, "Immigration on the Lower East Side of New York."

"These were painted on cement walls. There was no way you can deconstruct the work and separate the work once you've torn down the building where they stand," he said.

Haas also created four sculptural wall friezes depicting the stories of King Solomon and Pao Kung, a Chinese judge from the Song Dynasty. Although his mural could not be saved, his friezes were dismantled and are now stored at Rikers Island.

Viewers can see preparatory gouache paintings resembling Haas' original mural and plaster maquettes of his friezes at the exhibit.

"There's no way to replace that, and that's why it's important for future generations to understand what they're losing at this point" said Jan Lee, a community activist.

Lee is part of the "Neighbors United Below Canal" coalition that opposed the removal of the site-specific artwork alongside local city council member Christopher Marte.

Among other artwork affected by the demolition process includes Kit-Yin Snyder's "The Seven Columns of the Temple of Wisdom" and "Solomon's Throne," which are also being stored at Rikers.

"God, I was, I was so sad, you know after 30 years seeing it, my legacy is gone," Snyder said. "It's not something an artist would want to see: her work being treated this way."

Ironically, Snyder's work was intended to promote justice as part of a bridge between the jail and the Manhattan criminal court building. Similar to Haas, miniature models of Snyder's work are also on view at the exhibit.

"I think when you have two artists who are 87 and 89 years old who are fighting for public art, we have to stand up as a city, listen to them, and we have to respect their viewpoints because they represent public arts' future." Lee said.

The Yeh Art Gallery is located in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall at St. John's University. Snyder and Haas' exhibition is free and open to the public, and will run until Dec. 9.

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