Art can truly be left to the eye of the beholder, but seldom is art discerned as garbage—not just trash interpretations of creativity, but truly as throw-it-in-the-dumpster waste.
That is what happened with an exhibit that artist David Lew, known as Shark Toof, created for the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, where his 88 decorated empty canvas sacks hanging outside were thrown away toward the end of a 2018 exhibition, titled “Don’t Believe the Hype: L.A. Asian Americans in Hip-Hop.” He was one of nine featured graffiti artists and muralists.
“We always saw David as an artist, and we saw this as an outdoor art installation,” exhibition co-curator Justin Charles Hoover told the Los Angeles Times after his one-year contract expired. “The work was always meant to weather and fade outdoors. It was meant to fall apart and be sold. Whoever took it down though, because it was weathered, it was garbage. But I assume it was a completely innocent mistake.”
Lew is suing the city-operated museum, which maintains that the bags were merchandise hanging as decor rather than an art exhibit. The Los Angeles Times obtained a vendor agreement from the museum showing that it would receive 20% of bag sales.
The 88 bags were coated in gold paint and hung by twine on clothespins and left outside to weather, depicting Chinese immigrants’ history in the laundry business. The numeral eight represents good fortune in Chinese culture.
Some bags were promised to collectors while the museum would buy others at $88 each.
“Not being able to see these things after eight months, at the location, was gut-wrenching,” Lew told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s like you’re watching the Super Bowl and they say, ‘We’re not gonna call a winner, we’ll just end it in the third quarter.’ There’s no resolution.”
And no matter how bad the football is in a Super Bowl, it is still considered football.