Evelyn Wong, one of 35 artists displaying work in the biennial at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, in a printmaking classroom at Maine College of Art, where she teaches. She says the CMCA gave her too small a space to display her installation piece related to the Lunar New Year. Though the museum offered a new spot, she is upset about how the situation was handled. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A Portland artist who is featured in the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s 2023 biennial is protesting the exhibition over what she considers to be racially and culturally insensitive decisions by the Rockland museum’s curators.

Evelyn Wong proposed for the biennial an installation celebrating the Lunar New Year, something she felt strongly about given increased instances of anti-Asian American & Pacific Islander violence and hate crimes in recent years.

Yet instead of prominent placement in the biennial, Wong said she initially was offered space on a small wall that didn’t match the proportions of her work and was located at the back of the museum near the public bathrooms.

Museum officials, who have since offered Wong another spot to display her work, say they don’t consider the wall a lesser space and that there was no ill intent behind their decision.

“This is not the first time that an arts institution has insisted that the ‘best’ spot available for my artwork is next to the public bathrooms, or in the most inconvenient areas where viewing the work was uncomfortable,” Wong wrote in a lengthy post on her website detailing her experience.

Wong, 37, grew up in South Carolina to Chinese immigrant parents. She moved to Maine in 2017 to study at the Maine College of Art & Design, where she is now an adjunct faculty member. She also has a studio at Space in Portland.


After she expressed her concerns to CMCA about the initial placement of her installation, staff suggested a different location, one that had not been offered to her previously and that hadn’t been on the floor plan they sent her.

Wong agreed to install her work there, but she was still upset and decided at the last minute to include in protest a replica of the museum’s floor plan, “with the toilets of the public bathroom set in clear vinyl against a section of gold-painted wall, highlighting the curatorial decision of the CMCA.”

“My first thought was that I could just boycott the show; and I seriously considered doing that,” Wong said Monday. “But the more I thought about it, if I didn’t speak out, someone else like me could be subjected to this in the future.

The installation from Portland artist Evelyn Wong commemorating the Lunar New Year hangs in the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland as part of the museum’s 2023 biennial. Wong is protesting the exhibition over what she perceives as racially and culturally insensitive practices by curators there. Photo courtesy Evelyn Wong


“Change needs to happen. Without pressure, it often doesn’t.”

Tim Peterson, executive director and chief curator of the Rockland museum, said he respects Wong’s feelings but insisted there was no “conscious or unconscious bias” involved in choosing the initial location for her work.


“We had proposed this location because of its proximity to our ArtLab, and she had proposed teaching classes during the biennial,” Peterson said, adding that the hallway is lit even when the museum is closed, which offers additional visibility. “When she let us know that she thought this was a lesser space that mirrored other experiences she’s had, it required us to rethink things. In everything we do, we’re responsive to artists, so we offered an alternate site.”

Peterson also said the reason the alternate site didn’t show up on the initial floor plan shared with Wong is because it’s a temporary wall.

He doesn’t view the initial location as undesirable. It has been used as active exhibition space in the past, often for projects that embrace social or cultural issues, since it can been seen from the courtyard and is lit 24 hours a day.

Peterson said he’s disappointed that he hasn’t had an opportunity to speak directly with Wong and is genuinely sorry that she felt disrespected as an artist of color.

“We’re working to build a better museum. That’s going to be the goal every day of my directorship,” he said.

Peterson said in the two years since he’s been director, there have been 10 solo exhibitions at the CMCA and seven of the artists have been non-white.


“There is more to be achieved, but I feel we are actively doing this work,” he said.


The 2023 biennial at the CMCA opened with a reception on Saturday and will be on display through May 7. Two jurors – Misa Jeffereis, assistant curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Sarah Montross, senior curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts – chose the 35 artists featured from more than 400 submissions. Montross previously was a post-doctoral curatorial fellow at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick.

Once the artists were selected, Peterson and curatorial associate Rachel Romanski worked with each to decide what specific work would be shown and where in the museum it would be displayed. Peterson said he hasn’t heard from any of the other artists expressing concerns about the placement of their work.

Some artists in the biennial who were contacted about Wong’s experience either didn’t respond or didn’t want to be quoted in this story.

Wong, though, said full representation matters and even if staff didn’t intentionally push an artist of color to the back of the museum, it happened just the same.

“The CMCA has the privilege to decide who gets to be seen and how,” she wrote on her website. “What were they hoping to say to the community of Chinese and Asian Americans in Maine? That the best place to celebrate our culture is in the back, by the public bathrooms, and at night when no one is around to see us? That we should remain comfortably out of the way, but visible enough that the CMCA could still consider itself inclusive and diverse?”

Wong said that even though the museum officials ultimately offered her another location, they didn’t fully acknowledge her concerns and their apology to her felt hollow. That’s why she decided to speak out.

Peterson said he hoped to be able to meet with Wong to better understand her experience. That hadn’t happened as of Monday, but he said the invitation remains open.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.