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"Reagan Louie: Sex in Asia"
2003-09-04 until 2003-12-07
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco, CA, USA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents Reagan Louie: Sex in Asia, an exhibition of the artist’s large-scale color photographs representing his candid and complex study of the Asian sex industry. On view at SFMOMA from September 4 through December 7, 2003, the exhibition is organized by Sandra S. Phillips, the Museum’s senior curator of photography, in close collaboration with the artist. According to Phillips, “I think it is important for SFMOMA to present this marvelous and vivid work. The exhibition marks a strong departure from some of Reagan Louie’s introspective earlier work.”

Reagan Louie, a Chinese American photographer living in the Bay Area, spent six years exploring the Asian sex trade. Traveling throughout Asia, Louie visited nearly a dozen countries, photographing the day-to-day lives of hundreds of women and girls, who—either by choice or necessity—prostitute themselves. Ranging from Thai sex emporiums and Japanese image clubs to Philippine dance halls and Taiwanese betel nut stands, his pictures explore this thriving industry and the fantasy that it nourishes. His obsessive photographic journey into this underground business depicts a world where the line between myth and reality is often deliberately blurred. Louie records the often gaudy, functional architecture on the periphery, but focuses his full attention on the women who inhabit this world. He examines the stereotypes of Asian female sexuality that give these places their particular character, but Louie is not interested in sociological study. He prefers to see these women as individuals, worthy of thoughtful yet frank portraits, startling and

 Reagan Louie: Sex in Asia features approximately 70 photographs ranging in size from 8 by 10 inches to 48 by 60 inches; one gallery will consist of “maps” of ephemera and small prints grouped according to the geographic location in which the picture was taken. In addition, approximately 60 photographs selected by the artist that served to inform his work will be on view. These influential images are primarily culled from SFMOMA’s permanent collection, with some loans from local collectors.

In addition to being an artist, Reagan Louie is a professor in the photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he has taught since 1976. He received a BA from UCLA and an MFA from Yale University. His work can be found in the collections of several major museums in the United States, including SFMOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Louie’s 1991 exhibition and book Toward a Truer Life: Photographs of China 1980–1990, based on a photographic exploration of his ancestral homeland, received wide critical acclaim.

Reagan Louie: Sex in Asia is accompanied by a fully illustrated book by the artist entitled Orientalia: Sex in Asia, which features more than 100 of his color photographs and a first-person narrative of his journeys, revealing the context in which these photographs were made and providing further insight into the aspects of Asian sexuality—from the innocent to the depraved. Included is an introductory essay by Asian American writer Tracy Quan, (“Diary of a Manhatten Call Girl: A Nancy Chan Novel”), a former sex worker who writes and speaks about issues that affect the sex industry. Published by powerHouse Books, Orientalia: Sex in Asia is available at the SFMOMA MuseumStore or on the Museum’s Web site at www.sfmoma.org for $35 ($31.50 for SFMOMA members).

Reagan Louie
Bangkok, 1999
Chromogenic development print
Courtesy of the artist
Copyright Reagan Louie

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