Susette Min, an associate professor of Asian American studies, is also an experienced art exhibition curator. She brought expertise in both areas to the table for the exhibition “¿Welcome?” at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. She’s the first UC Davis faculty member to curate an exhibition at the museum since it opened in November 2016.
“I see them as being symbiotic,” said Min of her work as a professor and a curator. “It opens a conversation with artists, institutions, viewers – all these valences that I like.”
Prior to joining the UC Davis College of Letters and Science in 2004, she was assistant curator of contemporary art at the Drawing Center in New York and was a curatorial assistant at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive while a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. She has also curated exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Asia Society, Blaffer Art Museum and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.
Creating real shows for class
As an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History, Min regularly teaches a curatorial practice class that results in an exhibition, usually at a nontraditional space on campus. These have included sound installations, an exhibition on the militarization of campus police, and one exploring the UC Board of Regents role in the UC budget crisis several years ago. A 2014 exhibition on student debt included banners that satirized a UC Davis marketing campaign and stirred up a bit of controversy when the banners were removed.
“Actually doing an exhibition is a valuable experience for the students,” Min said. “We’ve had several very successful projects and students got a lot out of it. Some of them just take off and run with it. I wish I could teach the class for a whole year.”
Like the class exhibitions, “¿Welcome?” addresses current social and political issues.
“There have been many exhibitions on immigration, deportation and the wall, and I wanted to do something different,” she said. “I wanted to complicate the idea of hospitality, to dismantle it and reconfigure it in a new way. As a curator, I want to create a framework that is both rigorous and porous.”
Exhibition examines complexities
The “complications” can include hospitality being a criminal act in the case of one providing sanctuary to those in a place illegally, guests overstaying their welcome, rules for guests that make them not seem like guests, and how people sometimes unwittingly, but willingly become hosts, as when European tourists helped African migrants coming ashore in a beach resort.
The exhibition is set against a background of current immigration issues around the world made highly visible by the migration and refugee crisis encompassing the Middle East, Africa and many parts of Europe, and recent restrictions and rhetoric around U.S. immigration policies. The Mellon Comparative Borders Initiative is a co-sponsor of the exhibition.
The artists in “¿Welcome?” address the issue as it plays out around the globe, from Mexico to the Middle East, and in a wide variety of mediums including quilt making, video and installation work.
Min is arts editor of Social Text, a critical studies journal that focuses attention on questions of gender, sexuality, race and the environment, and North American editor of the journal Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas. Her new book Unnamable: The Ends of Asian American Art will be published this summer. The book, which is organized as a series of mini-exhibitions, examines the idea of Asian American art and considers whether the category is outmoded.
— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science