Our Modern Past By SfMOMA Young curators: Wayland Li, Leon Lin, Johnny Luo, Steven Vo

Aim + Objective

Most people simply glance at artwork and are seduced by the easy gratification that technology provides.

The aim of our exhibition is to help maintain the relevance of art museums against the advent of touchscreen and other technologies. We want to improve the usual way modern audiences interact with art. Most people simply glance at artwork and are seduced by the easy gratification that technology provides. This problem has risen only in our generation because of the ubiquitous rise of technology. Examples of such, include modern smartphones and personal computers which feature various modes of input. This is best observed in Androids and iPhones with their state of the art voice commanded assistants like Siri or Cortana, where people can talk to an inanimate object.

Our team’s point of view is that museums will lose relevance against mediums that dehumanize or lack of introspection. We want to prevent people from alienating themselves and disconnecting from their own body and spirit.

Design Concept

For our exhibition, we want our audience to resolve the paradox of using technology and still being connected authentically with other human beings.

Art allows us to connect with our emotions such as love, anger, fear, sorrow, despair, and elation. Our exhibition aims to encourage viewers to rediscover the feeling of truly being alive while interacting together with the artwork and people . For our exhibition, we want our audience to resolve the paradox of using technology and still being connected authentically with other human beings. Smartphones give the illusion of connection while having an emotionless face in real life.To do this, we plan on giving our visitors a “split-screen” experience where we are still using technology, but the viewers as “players” are physically next to each other.

To accomplish this, we want to propose a mobile puzzle game app (Piece by Piece) that is used with the art pieces in order to bring the audiences together. Each painting/artwork is a piece of a puzzle with a narrative connected to a larger theme. The goal of solving each puzzle is to find the common theme with each painting, and have everyone work together to solve the problem. When the audience walks through our three exhibition galleries, we want them to have a “meeting of the minds” and interpret the artworks together to find the connecting theme to solve the puzzle.

The Prototype

"App Screenshots"


We want our audience to interact with others and ask questions to each other.

Our theme is based on Chinese American history and heritage. We have decided to emphasize photographs of candid subjects or of historical significance. Events in the last century include the rise of GuoMinDang, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Massacre of TianAnMen Square. We want our audience to interact with others and ask questions. This will help them engage with each other to learn the true meaning and emotions in the artwork. When the audience views these significant events in history, we want them to feel the hardship and sadness that the people were feeling at the time.

The Exhibition

Untitled 1955. Pirkle Jones

The plant is called gold nugget flowers. Each bud turns into a puff of yellow flowers that is very gold in color. The belief is that you buy them right before they are about to blossom at the start of the Chinese new year. Over the three week period, the pollen clusters will grow more gold in color and eventually wilt and fall over where you placed them. It is supposed to simulate money growing on a tree and falling onto your property. It is supposed to bring money, good fortune and prosperity to the new year.

Vegetable Peddler, Old Chinatown, San Francisco 1895-1905.

A possible meaning of this artwork is to give a message that the life of an immigrant is not always easy. You must overcome obstacles and boundaries to achieve that dream that you came here for. No matter how difficult the problem is and how much they struggle, the people in their community is willing to help pick them up from their feet and lend them a helping hand. The grey and black color expresses the hardship, pain, and community. When you put both of these elements together it gives the audience a sad and understanding viewpoint of the life of immigrants in their communities.

Chinese Playground 1938. John Gutmann

A possible meaning of this artwork is that during the 1930’s-1940’s, it was hard to find friends in the United States because at that time of period, people outside the United States came to the United States to find a start. Starting off fresh is very tough. By observing the artwork by John Gutmann, I see people with different ethnicity hanging out with each other at the playground. So it could mean that back then it was very difficult and now we should overcome the obstacle and become united with each other no matter what ethnicity.

Chinese Execution 1860s. William Saunders

William Saunders was a British-born photographer who settled in China and became of the best commercial photography during the nineteenth century. The photograph depicts a person who is about to be publicly executed. This photo is significant because it literally captures the last moments of a person who was probably chosen as an example to the rest of the people. In the past, public executions were favored because it allowed the person to make a final speech and gave the state a chance to display its power.

Untitled 1940. Dong Kingman

It includes traditional Chinese buildings, infused with the modernization of society in the 1940s. Such inventions were transportation like cars and cable cars. Chinatown represents a place for Asians, mostly Chinese immigrants to come in order for them to accommodate to foreign society. 1940 was not a great year for Asians in America, as that was during a time of oppression and war. Japanese immigrants were prosecuted, and other Asian ethnic groups would have been grouped along with them.

A Corner in Chinatown S.F 1923. P. Douglas Andersen

The meaning behind the photo is that the life of an immigrant is not easy, especially when you are moving into a whole new world. This photo portrays this while giving a glimpse of hope. When you are in a community, and surrounded with people just like you or have the same background connection as you, it gives you strength and hope to continue a new life. This is an important message that the photo is trying to portray to its viewers.

Miss Cable's Class of Chinese Girls 1880s. Isaiah West Taber

Taber's reason for taking this photograph is, "that the state may preserve the names and faces, and keep alive the memory of those who made it what it is." The counter-narrative is often left out of history because they do not have a voice to speak out for their own experiences. What is recorded is usually from the perspective of an observer and usually not from a primary source.

Untitled 1875. William Saunders.

Foot binding was seen as a simple of status and aristocracy in the past. The thought behind foot binding is that small feet were seen as attractive to men, and so women would have their feet bound at a young at such as 6-7 years old and it would be so tight that it would deform the growth of the foot into something small and compressed. It was a sign of high class because noble women did not need to use their feet for work, thus they could afford to have them bound. Eventually this trickled down to all parts of society. Although this is a gruesome topic, we believe that ignoring it will be doing wrong for all the victims.

Loom 1999. Hung Liu
Tiananmen Square, Beijing 2002. Sze Tsung Leong

Tiananmen Square is an iconic and important historical landmark in Chinese history, most recently connected to the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. In June of 1989, many university students decide to protest against the oppressive government, and were looking for a more democratic government. The government decided to use military might to try and suppress the protesters, and used weapons and even military tanks. The death toll ended up in the hundreds of thousands, but the government wanted to keep in under wraps. The government wanted to suppress the events that had occurred, but Sze Tsung Leong didn't want that to happen. This event showed what was wrong with the Chinese government itself, and its citizens started to question the Communist Party rule. This photo was taken only a couple of years after it had happened, so the events that occurred were still fresh in mind.


Facebook, CYC, Skylink TV

We aim to promote our exhibition using many different mediums. Such mediums we’re looking to use are poster ads and social media. We are going to make a Facebook page, a Twitter account and Instagram page. Our Twitter will post daily tweets reminding about the new exhibition; Instagram and Facebook can post our posters promoting it; school loop will have a reminder on the front page of Balboa’s website.

We are looking into many groups as potential stakeholders who would seem to have a great interest in our exhibition. Since our exhibition relates to the heritage of Asians, some of our stakeholders could be the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, CYC, KTSF, Skylink TV, and SinoTV. The latter three are all Asian news stations.

CYC is the Community Youth Center, but has a huge focus on Asian American and international youth. They are already advocates for teaching interpersonal communication skills for job readiness and networking. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce can view this as an economic opportunity to raise money for the city by attracting Asian tourists from outside of the city.

Promotional Message

The modern audience finds contrast in behaviors and ideology as recently as twenty years ago because of the technological boom.

The message we want to promote by making this exhibition is to remind people of how far the counter narrative has come to achieve rights. Sometimes it was in their home country and sometimes it was to help establish themselves in a foreign land. And maybe sometimes it was all just a struggle that found a voice in mainstream history. The modern audience finds contrast in behaviors and ideology as recently as twenty years ago because of the technological boom.

People have become desensitized to violence and global affairs because of the information overload that the convenience of smart devices provide, and as a consequence have become desensitized to the world and of themselves.

Target Demographic

We want to prevent people from alienating themselves and disconnecting from their own body and spirit.

The exhibition that we created will open up a new world of art form to everyone, especially young artists. Today, many children and teens are not engaged in artworks at a museum, or even in general. It is hard for young children today to understand the true meaning or background story that an artwork can tell. Our exhibition will help make it more interactive and engaging for all visitors by using the five human senses in the artworks.

When someone is interacting with an artwork it makes it easier for them to understand the author’s story that they want to tell. If possible, we would like other artists from around the world to come visit our exhibition, and hopefully they will use our ideas in their future artworks.

Exhibition Design


Images from SFMOMA Collection.

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