Asian|American|Modern Art Shifting Currents, 1900-1970 • de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA


Exhibition dates: October 25, 2008–January 18, 2009

San Francisco, June 2008—Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970, on view October 25, 2008, to January 18, 2009, at the de Young Museum is the first comprehensive survey of Asian American modernism. This exhibition of works by artists of Asian ancestry who lived and worked in the United States seeks to showcase some of the most important individuals contributing to the canon of Asian American art and advance awareness of this under-represented group in American art history.  Their art reflects the currents of identity and style that shift between aesthetics of diverse international geographies.  Exhibition curator Mark Johnson says, “This body of work is rich in variety and demonstrates the wealth of Asian American art using masterpieces spanning 70 years as examples.”

Nearly 100 works by over 70 artists of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean ancestry, many of whom had their work exhibited at the de Young Museum or Legion of Honor in earlier decades, are included.  Asian/American/Modern explores the wide range of influences across cultural boundaries on artists such as Ruth Asawa, Chang Dai-chien, Yun Gee, Dong Kingman, Isamu Noguchi, Chiura Obata, Yoko Ono, Alfonso Ossorio, Nam June Paik, and Tseng Yuho.  Included in the exhibition:

  • Toshio Aoki’s Untitled (Thunder Kami), ca. 1900––the earliest piece in the exhibition is a work on paper featuring a sacred Shinto spirit; the piece demonstrates the passion for Japanese art and design in America at the turn of the twentieth century.
  • Nam June Paik’s TV Clock, 1963––one of Paik’s groundbreaking works, it is among the earliest works of conceptual art to incorporate televisions as sculpture, and explore the relationship of video and time.
  • Tseng Yuho’s mural Western Frontier, 1964––likely the largest public artwork ever created by a female Chinese artist before 1970; commissioned by Golden West Financial, now Wachovia Bank, featuring paper collage on a mural scale.
  • Carlos Villa’s Painted Cloak, 1970–71––the most recent work in the exhibition is a painted canvas with taffeta lining and feathers; this mixed media object points to the artist’s search for a cultural identity as a Filipino American.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has played an unparalleled role in the development of Asian American artists’ careers and art history. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing in every subsequent decade, the de Young has hosted many exhibitions of artists of Asian ancestry. Tseng Yuho had solo exhibitions in 1947 and 1952, and in 1960 there were solo exhibitions for Ruth Asawa and Gary Woo. Chee Chin S. Cheung Lee’s 1933 painting Mountain Fantasy, featured in the 1935 group exhibition of the Chinese Art Association at the de Young, makes a repeat appearance in Asian/American/Modern. John Buchanan, director of FAMSF says, “Our roster of Asian American exhibitions is arguably the most significant of any major American museum.  Our commitment is not only critical to the institution’s self conception, but also relevant to the understanding of what constitutes a more holistic vision of American culture.”

Butterflies: Dream of Chuang-TzeYun Gee – Butterflies: Dream of Chuang-Tze

A full-color catalog co-published with the University of California Press accompanies this exhibition.  In addition, the Fine Arts Museums invited prominent members of the local Asian American art community to collaborate on related programming as well as strengthen awareness of the rich offerings by institutions that regularly present exhibitions of Asian American art in the Bay Area.  The result of this cultural partnership is a community-wide program calendar for fall/winter 2008, produced by FAMSF.

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Asian American Art Project at Stanford University in collaboration with San Francisco State University.  Exhibition co-curators are Daniell Cornell, former curator of American art at FAMSF and current deputy director of the Palm Springs Museum of Art, and Mark Johnson, professor of art at San Francisco State University. Asian/American/Modern Art will travel to The Noguchi Museum and be on view
February 18 to August 23, 2009.