Gallerist Emilia Yin Is Making Room for Asian Diasporic Artists in Los Angeles
Portrait of Emilia Yin at Make Room, 2022. Courtesy of Emilia Yin and Make Room, Los Angeles.
It is Emilia Yin’s eighth year in Los Angeles and her fourth since founding Make Room, a gallery that champions artists of the Asian diaspora, along with other underrepresented and emerging artists.
The initial beginnings of Make Room occurred in 2016 when Yin began to notice the apparent lack of Asian diasporic artists exhibiting in L.A. Raised between Hainan, China, and Hong Kong by parents in the cosmetics industry, Yin relocated to Los Angeles to attend undergraduate and, later, graduate school at the University of Southern California. “I started to think of all these great artists that I know and they don’t really get a show,” Yin said in an interview with Artsy. “So, I started a gallery in the beginning of 2018—I was 25.”
Installation view of Make Room’s inaugural exhibition “A Body of Her Own,” 2018. Courtesy of Make Room, Los Angeles.
Make Room initially established its roots in Chinatown in the hopes of being closer to community and paying homage to the early 2000s L.A. art scene. Last year, Yin moved the gallery to Hollywood and now occupies a space three times larger than her previous location.
In moving west, Yin seeks to continue championing underrepresented artists and artists of the Asian diaspora within L.A.’s expanding contemporary art ecosystem. “We want to put these artists we believe in into the mainstream conversation,” Yin said with urgency. As David Zwirner plans to open a new location nearby—joining Make Room’s current gallery neighbors Jeffrey Deitch, Morán Morán, and Matthew Brown—Yin is aware that she is “making room” as a young gallerist and Chinese woman in a city full of galleries founded by white men.
Dedicated to the longevity of its artists’ careers, Make Room regards institutional acquisition as a key priority. In the last six months alone, the gallery has placed works by Asian diasporic artists into six museums. For instance, paintings by Guimi You were acquired by the Hammer Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Yuz Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, following the Korean artist’s solo show at Make Room last fall.
In the storage room at the back of the gallery were two of You’s unreleased, ethereal oil paintings ready to be transported to their respective institutions. In the artist’s deeply pigmented yet limited color palette, disembodied femme figures, protected from the viewer’s gaze, appear within a Northern Californian landscape.
Since showing with Make Room, You’s works have gotten significantly larger in recent years. At 80 inches long, these were her two largest paintings to date. “Previously, I had only thought about my canvas and myself, but Make Room really showed me how much my art involves other people,” You told Artsy. “Their energy and influence really brought my canvas to life.” At Make Room, artists are physically taking up more space.
“Since we started showing more Asian artists,” Yin said, “we see more artists of the Asian diaspora showing in the U.S. and being collected by institutions—which jointly helps us get more institutional recognition.” Make Room has exhibited works by contemporary artists of Asian descent since its beginning, including that of Mitsuko Brooks, iris yirei hu, Xin Liu, Catalina Ouyang, Hiejin Yoo, and Yuri Yuan.
When asked if she feels that there is now adequate representation of Asian diasporic artists in L.A., Yin responded, “There’s never enough. If it’s enough, then the hate crimes wouldn’t happen. There’s so much work to be done.” In March 2021, Make Room organized “We Stand Together to Stop AAPI Hate,” a fundraising exhibition that benefited Support the AAPI Community Fund and the organization Stop AAPI Hate. More than 40 artists participated, including Judy Chicago, Kat Lyons, Pixy Liao, Dominique Fung, and Susan Chen.
Catalina Ouyang, installation view of “marrow” at Make Room, 2019. Photo by Yubo Dong. Courtesy of the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles.
While expressing her fear of artists being pigeonholed, Yin underscores the expansiveness Make Room has fostered. “I remember talking to an artist in New York, and one time, a gallery said their painting wasn’t Asian enough,” Yin remarked. “That’s the last thing I want my artists to feel, that they’re not enough. There shouldn’t be any limitation.”
In representing Asian diasporic artists, Yin is careful to present their work comprehensively, both in material and in concept. Storytelling is imperative for the gallery, and as Yin emphasized, it’s how artists want their stories told.
Correction: A previous version of this article suggested that Yin moved the gallery out of Chinatown due to increasing costs of rent. She relocated for a larger space.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Yin is aware of her presence as a Chinese woman gallerist in a neighborhood full of white male gallerists. The article has been amended to reflect the city of Los Angeles at large, rather than a singular neighborhood.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Yin fears pigeonholing artists. The article has been amended to state Yin’s awareness of artists being pigeonholed.