david Lew art piece
LA Times/David Lew

Artist sues Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles for throwing his art away

A museum should take care of art pieces but it doesn’t look like it’s the case here and an artist is really upset. According to the Los Angeles Times, David Lew aka Shark Toof is suing the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles for throwing his artwork out after displaying it. He was one of nine artists who had their artwork exhibited by the museum in 2018’s “Don’t Believe the Hype: L.A. Asian Americans in Hip Hop” exhibition.

“Most people’s understanding of high art is Michelangelo,” Lew told the Times. “If these were American flags, how carefully would they have been placed in a pile? But these look like something we’d eat fried rice off of — this can’t be from a master. And sadly, the bags were thrown away like dirty laundry.”

Lew donated his piece called the “Shayu De Yi Nian Lai See” (Year of the Shark Red Packet). It was 88 decorated empty red sacks hung on a clothesline for the museum’s courtyard. It was in dedication to the Chinese Americans in the laundry business inspired by his grandparents who worked as laundromats when they arrived in the United States. The bags were supposed to get beat up by the natural elements and develop individual characteristics as people do.

But according to the lawsuit, on December 7th, city maintenance crew members took down the display and tossed it in the trash. Since no one from the museum was there, the crew might have thought it was just trash. Only 14 of the bags that had fallen during the run of the show were not thrown out. The bags were never put up again or returned and the lawsuit says the bags were destroyed.

However, the museum said they have the bags in storage.

Additionally, the museum said it did not see the bags as an official art piece but rather merchandise. Their belief was that some of the bags were promised to Lew’s fans and the rest to be sold for $88 apiece at the museum. The attorney representing the Chinese American Museum said Lew would have gotten 20% of the sale money.

David Lew had another art piece for the exhibit, a painting of a shark, called the “Qinru (Trepass)” which was returned to him after the show.

It is unclear what Lew is asking for in monetary compensation but he’s asking the court to issue an injunction in the city to prevent museums from throwing out art pieces before advising the artist.

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