Please Wait by the Coatroom:

Reconsidering Race and Identity in American Art

Far-ranging and thought-provoking essays on the relation of art and ethnic identity.

This first collection by award-winning author John Yau, drawn from decades of work, includes essays about Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native American artists: sculptors Luis Jimenez and Ruth Asawa; “second generation Abstract Expressionists” such as the Black painter Ed Clark and the Japanese American painter Matsumi Kanemitsu; the performance artists James Luna and Patty Chang; the photographers Laurel Nakadate and Teju Cole; and a generation of Asian American artists that has emerged during the last decade.

While identity is at the fore in this collection, Yau’s essays also propose the need for an expansive view of identity, as in the essay “On Reconsidering Identity,” which explores the writings of Lydia Cabrera and Edouard Glissant, and the possibilities of creolisation versus the reductiveness of Aime Cesaire’s Negritude.

Please Wait by the Coatroom is for serious readers interested in the art and artists of color that many mainstream institutions and critics misrepresented or overlooked. It presents a view guided by the artists’ desire for autonomy and freedom in a culture that has deemed them undesirable or invisible.


“There certainly are many lively art critics right now. But if I had to name the one senior figure whose writing best reveals what’s happening, I would pick John Yau.”
—David Carrier, Counterpunch


Please Wait by the Coatroom brings together decades of Yau’s expansive views on art by marginalized and underrepresented artists of color, most of whom, thanks in large part to his dedication, are celebrated widely today.”
Christine Y. Kim, Britton Family Curator-at-Large, North America Art, Tate Modern

“Yau is a prescient critic who has set the stage for a more expansive view of art that the rest of us are only catching up to now.”
Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic

“John Yau sees what others have long ignored: the art world’s willful blindness to race, its exclusion of people of color, and the complexity of artists relegated to its coat rooms.”
Marci Kwon, Co-Director, Asian American Art Initiative, Cantor Arts Center

“A generation has impatiently waited for this book. Yau undoes previously canonized histories with precision. Yau is a polymath, deeply schooled in the canyons of metaphor in poetry, but here he is as precise and real as it gets.”
Kim Anno, painter, photographer, and film/video artist

“Yau’s sensitivity to words and their meanings and the gap between language and art is on display in this lively collection of essays that elevates the work of artists for whom the tangled knot of art and identity is central to their work.”
Helen Molesworth, writer and curator

“John Yau’s art criticism is luscious and purposeful. He is generous with words, but not in an adulatory way. Rather, Yau aims at sounding the dimensions of an artist’s oeuvre and at unlocking its hermeneutic potential. This collection, which bears the name of his landmark 1988 essay on Wifredo Lam’s marginalization at MoMA, gathers his voluminous work on artists of a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, recognizing the importance of personal identity as a defining element of artistic expression. The collection is restitutive of what the art mainstream and formalist frameworks have tried to erase. Yau illuminates a world of artists disregarded or omitted in the modern art canon. Giving them the attention they deserve, this book is a breath of fresh air, and evidence of Yau’s lifetime of swimming against the mainstream’s conventions and hierarchies.”
Taína Caragol, Curator of painting, sculpture & Latinx art and history, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian

“John Yau’s radiance of words and glistening observations about artists and the cultural sphere inspire and provoke. His peerless mode of describing and insights into the feeling of being cast aside compels all of us to reconsider makers and histories that have been waiting to be seen. Another brave, finely wrought collection that I will dip into time and time again.”
Asma Naeem, Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director at the Baltimore Museum of Art

John Yau is an award-winning poet and fiction writer who has been publishing art criticism since 1978. He is a professor of critical studies at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. He served as the arts editor of The Brooklyn Rail from 2006 – 2011, and then began writing for Hyperallergic Weekend. In 2021, Yau was awarded the Rabkin Prize for excellence in visual arts journalism.

His books of art criticism include In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol and A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns, as well as monographs on Wifredo Lam, Thomas Nozkowski, Joe Brainard, Catherine Murphy, Richard Artschwager, Liu Xiaodong, and Kim Tschang-yeul.

Yau’s previous book from Black Sparrow Press include Edificio Sayonara, Hawaiian Cowboys, Forbidden Entries, My Symptoms, and My Heart is that Eternal Rose Tattoo.