Asian American Art

Media - 1984.92 - SAAM-1984.92_1-000001 - 7823
Bumpei Usui, Portrait of Yasuo Kuniyoshi in His Studio, 1930, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Regis Corporation, 1984.92

SAAM’s collection includes many remarkable artworks that reflect the profound and longstanding contributions of Asian American and Asian diasporic artists in the United States. The study of this art contributes to a fuller understanding of the diverse people and influences that have shaped our national culture and raises important questions about what is meant by “American art.” 

The term “Asian American” was coined by activists in 1968 to bring together varied Asian ethnic groups as a unified political entity, while rejecting colonialist labels such as “oriental.” Its meaning and usage continue to shift and be challenged as discussions about race and identity in the U.S. evolve. SAAM approaches Asian American art not as a stable category but as an expansive and changeable field that relates to a vast assortment of identities, ethnicities, and modes of artistic production.  

Art by Asian Americans, especially works made before 1960, remains underrepresented in major museum collections and art historical scholarship. SAAM is making strategic acquisitions to better capture the historical depth of Asian American art and to reflect a greater array of experiences, traditions, and communities. U.S. artists who trace their heritage variously to East Asia, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, South Asia and the Pacific all have a place in the collection at SAAM. 

SAAM’s collection includes paintings created in the 1930s and 1940s by Hisako Hibi, Matsusaburo George HibiDong KingmanYasuo KuniyoshiChiura Obata, and Alfonso Ossorio; mid-twentieth-century works of abstraction by Leo AminoYayoi KusamaIsamu NoguchiKay Sekimachi, and Reuben Tam; and works charting developments in American art since the 1970s by Ching Ho ChengTiffany ChungChitra GaneshNancy HomByron KimMaya LinHung LiuRoger ShimomuraDo Ho SuhStephanie SyjucoTseng Kwong ChiZarina, and others. In addition to holding iconic works of art by Nam June Paik, the museum houses the archives of this groundbreaking electronic media artist. SAAM’s contemporary craft collection, displayed at its Renwick Gallery, includes important works by Steven Young LeeGeorge NakashimaToshiko TakaezuAkio Takamori, and Wanxin Zhang, among others. 

Selected Works

Alfonso Ossorio, Double Portrait, 1944, watercolor and black ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1993.70
Double Portrait
Date1944
watercolor and black ink on paper
Not on view
Byron Kim, Glenn Ligon, Black & White, 1993, oil on wood panels, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the C.K. Williams Family Foundation, Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr., Jane and James H. Cohan, Mihail Lari and Scott Murray, Aimee and Robert Lehrman, Home Front Communications, and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2014.16A-FF, © 1993, Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon
Black & White
Date1993
oil on wood panels
Not on view
Satoru Abe, New Branches, 1980, cast and welded copper and brass on wood base, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, in honor of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, 2021.78
New Branches
Date1980
cast and welded copper and brass on wood base
Not on view
Ching Ho Cheng, Kiss, 1971, gouache and ink on rag board, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 2021.6, © 1971, Estate of Ching Ho Cheng / Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Kiss
Date1971
gouache and ink on rag board
On view
Chitra Ganesh, The Scorpion Gesture, 2018, suite of 5 digital animations, color, sound; 07:59 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, in partnership with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Samuel and Blanche Koffler Acquisition Fund, 2022.50, © 2022, Chitra Ganesh
The Scorpion Gesture
Date2018
suite of 5 digital animations, color, sound; 07:59 minutes
Not on view
Chiura Obata, El Capitán, 1931, color woodcut on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Obata Family, 2000.76.24, © 1989, Lillian Yuri Kodani
El Capitán
Date1931
color woodcut on paper
Not on view
Christine Sun Kim, The Star-Spangled Banner (Third Verse), 2020, charcoal on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase and purchase through the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2021.31.1, © 2020, Christine Sun Kim. Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles
The Star-Spangled Banner (Third Verse)
Date2020
charcoal on paper
Not on view
Do Ho Suh, Radiator, Corridor/Ground Floor, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2013, polyester fabric, stainless steel armature, and display case with LED lighting, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Lucy Rhame, 2018.22, © 2013, Do Ho Suh
Radiator, Corridor/​Ground Floor, 348 West 22nd Street, New…
Date2013
polyester fabric, stainless steel armature, and display case with LED lighting
Not on view
George Nakashima, Conoid Bench, 1977, black walnut and hickory, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Warren D. Brill, 1991.121
Conoid Bench
Date1977
black walnut and hickory
Not on view
Hisako Hibi, Floating Clouds, 1944, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the American Women's History Initiative Acquisitions Pool, administered by the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, 2023.6.1, © 2024, Ibuki Hibi Lee
Floating Clouds
Date1944
oil on canvas
Not on view
Hung Liu, The Ocean is the Dragon's World, 1995, oil on canvas, painted wood panel, metal support rod, and metal bird cage with wood and ceramic appendages, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in part through the Lichtenberg Family Foundation, 1996.34A-D
The Ocean is the Dragon’s World
Date1995
oil on canvas, painted wood panel, metal support rod, and metal bird cage with wood and ceramic appendages
Not on view
Isamu Noguchi, Grey Sun, 1967, Arni marble, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1969.158, © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York
Grey Sun
Date1967
Arni marble
Not on view
Jean Shin, Chemical Balance III, 2009, prescription pill bottles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy, fluorescent lights, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of an anonymous donor in honor of YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, 2010.2A-E, © 2009, Jean Shin
Chemical Balance III
Date2009
prescription pill bottles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy, fluorescent lights
Not on view
Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, Hiroshima, 2001, mixed media on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the Ford Motor Company, 2008.32.3
Hiroshima
Date2001
mixed media on paper
Not on view
Kamekichi Tokita, Self Portrait, ca. 1935, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Kamekichi and Haruko Tokita family of Seattle, Washington, USA, 2023.11
Self Portrait
Dateca. 1935
oil on canvas
On view
Kay Sekimachi, Nagare VII, 1970, woven nylon monofilament, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1972.183
Nagare VII
Date1970
woven nylon monofilament
Not on view
Ken Ohara, ONE, 1970, printed 1998, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Setsuko Ono, 2017.44.1
ONE
Date1970, printed 1998
gelatin silver print
Not on view
Kenjiro Nomura, The Farm, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.36
The Farm
Date1934
oil on canvas
On view
Dong Kingman, Nut Street Station, n.d., watercolor, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design, 2012.10
Nut Street Station
Daten.d.
watercolor
Not on view
Kota Ezawa, LYAM 3D, 2008, digital animation, color, silent; 04:00 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 2010.23, © 2008, Kota Ezawa
LYAM 3D
Date2008
digital animation, color, silent; 04:00 minutes
Not on view
Tseng Kwong Chi, Disneyland, California, from the series East Meets West, 1979, printed 2013, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment and the Asian Pacific  American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific  American Center, 2021.14.3, © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc.
Disneyland, California, from the series East Meets West
Date1979, printed 2013
gelatin silver print
Not on view
Leo Amino, Seedling, 1953, wood: sabicu and ebony, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Wright, 1986.88.1
Seedling
Date1953
wood: sabicu and ebony
Not on view
Miyoko Ito, Katchina, 1973, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the S. W. and B. M. Koffler Foundation, 1979.53.18
Katchina
Date1973
oil on canvas
Not on view
Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 2002.23, © Nam June Paik Estate
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii
Date1995
fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound
On view
Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1963, 1976 version, manipulated television set; black and white, silent, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Byungseol and Dolores An, 2006.20, © Nam June Paik Estate
Zen for TV
Date1963, 1976 version
manipulated television set; black and white, silent
On view
Ray Yoshida, Partial Evidences II, 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the S. W. and B. M. Koffler Foundation, 1979.53.34
Partial Evidences II
Date1973
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Reuben Tam, The Shores of Light, 1960, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1968.52.9
The Shores of Light
Date1960
oil on canvas
Not on view
Roger Shimomura, Diary: December 12, 1941, 1980, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1991.171
Diary: December 121941
Date1980
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Steven Young Lee, Vase with Landscape and Dinosaurs, 2014, porcelain with pigment and glaze, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Richard Fryklund, Giselle and Ben Huberman, David and Clemmer Montague, and museum purchase through the Howard Kottler Endowment for Ceramic Art
, 2015.17, © 2014, Steven Young Lee
Vase with Landscape and Dinosaurs
Date2014
porcelain with pigment and glaze
On view
Tadashi Sato, Embedded Rock, 1965, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, in honor of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, 2021.43.2
Embedded Rock
Date1965
oil on canvas
Not on view
Tom Nakashima, Sanctuary at Western Sunset, 1992, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Gail and John Enns, 2008.38
Sanctuary at Western Sunset
Date1992
oil on canvas
On view
Toshiko Takaezu, Anagama, ca. 1980s, glazed stoneware, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 2006.26.8
Anagama
Dateca. 1980s
glazed stoneware
Not on view
Tuan Andrew Nguyen, The Island, 2017, single-channel video, color, 5.1 surround sound; 42:00 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Asian Pacific American Initiative Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, 2022.51
The Island
Date2017
single-channel video, color, 5.1 surround sound; 42:00 minutes
Not on view
Wanxin Zhang, Warrior with Color Face, 2009, high-fired clay with glaze, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David and Pamela Hornik, 2021.72
Warrior with Color Face
Date2009
high-fired clay with glaze
On view
Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Strong Woman and Child, 1925, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.50
Strong Woman and Child
Date1925
oil on canvas
On view
Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Fakirs, 1951, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.93
Fakirs
Date1951
oil on canvas
Not on view
Yayoi Kusama, Forlorn Spot, 1953, watercolor, pastel, ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Benton and The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, 2019.32.4
Forlorn Spot
Date1953
watercolor, pastel, ink on paper
Not on view
Zarina, House of Many Rooms, 1993, etchings on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Patricia Tobacco Forrester Endowment, 2014.42A-D, © 1993, Zarina
House of Many Rooms
Artist
Date1993
etchings on paper
Not on view

Related Artists

Satoru Abe
born Honolulu, HI 1926
Leo Amino
born Taiwan, Japan (now Taiwan) 1911-died New York City 1989

Leo Amino—born in Taiwan in 1911 where his father was an agricultural consultant for the Japanese government—was reared in Tokyo.

Ching Ho Cheng
born Havana, Cuba 1946-died New York City 1989
Tiffany Chung
born Da Nang, Viet Nam 1969
Dong Kingman
born Oakland, CA 1911-died New York City 2000
Kota Ezawa
born Cologne, Germany 1969
Chitra Ganesh
born New York City 1975
Hisako Hibi
born Torihama, Fukui Prefecture, Japan 1907-died San Francisco, CA 1991
Matsusaburo George Hibi
born Shiga Prefecture, Japan 1886-died New York City 1947
Nancy Hom
born Toisan, China 1949
Miyoko Ito
born Berkeley, CA 1918-died Chicago, IL 1983
Byron Kim
born La Jolla, CA 1961
Christine Sun Kim stands in front of a tree and dark background in a pink dress
Christine Sun Kim
born Orange County, CA 1980
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Yasuo Kuniyoshi
born Okayama, Japan 1889-died New York City 1953

Painter and photographer of art. His languid women in repose from the 1930s are significant, but he also painted still lifes and landscapes.

Yayoi Kusama
born Matsumoto, Japan 1929
Steven Young Lee
born Chicago, IL 1975
Maya Lin
born Athens, OH 1959
Hung Liu
born Changchun, China 1948-died Oakland, CA 2021
John Matsudaira
born Seattle, WA 1922-died Seattle, WA 2007
Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani
born Sacramento, CA 1920-died New York City 2012
George Nakashima
born Spokane, WA 1905-died New Hope, PA 1990

"To build a small palace around here with a Japanese carpenter in the finest traditions …" is a dream George Nakashima would like to realize someday.

Tom Nakashima
born Seattle, WA 1941
Tuan Andrew Nguyen
born Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 1976
Isamu Noguchi
born Los Angeles, CA 1904-died New York City 1988
Kenjiro Nomura
born Gifu Prefecture, Japan 1896-died Seattle, WA 1956

Kenjiro Nomura painted The Farm [SAAM, 1964.1.36] under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project during the Depression.

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Chiura Obata
born Okayama-ken, Japan 1885-died Berkeley, CA 1975

Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was one of the most significant Japanese American artists working on the West Coast in the last century.

Ken Ohara
Japanese, born Tokyo, Japan 1942
Alfonso Ossorio
born Manila, Philippines 1916-died New York City 1990
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Nam June Paik
born Seoul, Korea 1932-died Miami Beach, FL 2006

Nam June Paik (1932–2006), internationally recognized as the "Father of Video Art," created a large body of work including video sculptures, installations, performances, videotapes and television productions.

Tadashi Sato
born Honolulu, HI 1923-died HI 2005
Media - portrait_image_113259.jpg - 90183
Kay Sekimachi
born San Francisco, CA 1926

Born in San Francisco, Kay Sekimachi studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland from 1946 to 1949.

Roger Shimomura
born Seattle, WA 1939

Born in Washington. Painter of Japanese descent who has been a diligent arts educator most of his life.

Jean Shin
born Seoul, South Korea 1971
Linda Sormin
born Bangkok, Thailand 1971
Do Ho Suh
born Seoul, South Korea 1962
Stephanie Syjuco
born Manila, Philippines 1974
Toshiko Takaezu
born Pepeekeo, HI 1922-died Honolulu, HI 2011

Toshiko Takaezu studied at the University of Hawaii and at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, where she also taught. She has been on the faculty of other institutions, including the Cleveland Institute of Art and Princeton University.

Akio Takamori
Japanese born Nobeoka, Japan 1950-died Seattle, WA 2017
Reuben Tam
born Kapaa, HI 1916-died Kapaa, HI 1991
Kamekichi Tokita
born Shizuoka, Japan 1897-died Seattle, WA 1948
Tseng Kwong Chi
born Hong Kong, China 1950-died New York City 1990
Bumpei Usui
born Nagano, Japan 1898-died New York City 1994
Ray Yoshida
born Kapaa, HI 1930-died Kauai, Hawaii 2009
Wanxin Zhang
born Changchun, China 1961
Zarina
born Aligarh, India 1937-died London, England 2020

Videos

Exhibitions

A watercolor image of Grand Canyon.
Chiura Obata: American Modern
November 27, 2019March 13, 2020
Japanese-born artist Chiura Obata’s seemingly effortless synthesis of different art traditions defies the usual division between “East” and “West.” This exhibition presents the most comprehensive survey of his rich and varied body of work to date, from bo
Tiffany Chung
Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue
March 15, 2019September 2, 2019
Through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees, Tiffany Chung probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
Woman standing next to blue hub sculpture
Do Ho Suh: Almost Home
March 16, 2018August 5, 2018
Do Ho Suh’s immersive architectural installations—unexpectedly crafted with ethereal fabric—explore the global nature of contemporary identity as well as memory, migration, and our ideas of home.
Sculpture Grey Sun by Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/​Modern
November 11, 2016March 18, 2017
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was among the most innovative American sculptors of the twentieth century, creating works that were far ahead of his time.
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The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi
April 2, 2015August 29, 2015
Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars.
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Nam June Paik: Global Visionary
December 13, 2012August 10, 2013
The artwork and ideas of the Korean-born artist Nam June Paik were a major influence on late twentieth-century art and continue to inspire a new generation of artists.
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The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942 – 1946
March 5, 2010January 30, 2011
The Art of Gaman showcases arts and crafts made by Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps during World War II.

SAAM Stories

Close of up of clay statue with painted face
Sculptor Wanxin Zhang explores history, politics, and culture through clay
SAAM
Detail from a painting. Orange and blue organic shapes on a dark blue background.
10/15/2021
On the surprising friendship between artists Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell
An illustration of a young woman with dark hair weaving holding a shuttle in her hand and is sitting a loom, weaving.
09/29/2021
Celebrating Kay Sekimachi’s 95th birthday with a comic about her life and work
Two visitors wearing cloth masks stand in front of the "Electronic Superhighway" installation. One is pointing at the artwork.
Reflecting on Paik's innovative installation with a new installment of the video series American Art Moments
A bridge over water.
05/18/2021
A critical look at artistic production and the unequal distribution of benefits during the New Deal period
Grace Yasumura
A photograph of a very colorful face mask
At the Smithsonian, we condemn xenophobia, misogyny, and racial and gendered violence.
 Stephanie Stebich, SAAM's Margaret and Terry Stent Direction in the museum's Lincoln Gallery. Photo by Gene Young. 
Stephanie Stebich
The Margaret and Terry Stent Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
A photograph of an artwork
Checking in with the artist who creates lively and unexpected sculptures from clay.
A photograph of a woman with brown hair and a dress standing inside a building.
Mary Savig
Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft
A photograph of a very colorful face mask
Julia Kwon’s interactive art projects facilitate solidarity and community
A photograph of a woman with brown hair and a dress standing inside a building.
Mary Savig
Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft
A watercolor of a town with a dust storm
05/27/2020
A Conversation about American Art and Anti-Asian Sentiment in the Age of COVID-19
A photograph of a woman with a green blazer and brown hair.
Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell
Community Engagement Specialist
A watercolor image of a lake with mountains in the background.
04/27/2020
In our time of social distancing, Obata's handwritten notes have us thinking about how we communicate with one another, and how important a simple note can be.
A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist
A selection of artifacts and ephemera from the Nam June Paik Archive
02/04/2020
The "Father of Video Art" takes center stage in a new installation and book.
This is a photograph of curator Saisha Grayson
Saisha Grayson
Curator of Time-Based Media
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Discovering four watercolors by Yayoi Kusama in SAAM's Joseph Cornell Study Center
A photograph of Melissa Ho by Jeff Elkins
Melissa Ho
Curator (20th-Century Art)
A man in a Mao suit standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
In his all too short career, the photographer rejected conventional codes of identity and insisted on new, ambiguous conditions of being.
A photograph of Melissa Ho by Jeff Elkins
Melissa Ho
Curator (20th-Century Art)
Detail of painting showing the roofs of building and clouds floating over them.
A look at historic new acquisitions of art by two trailblazing Japanese American painters
A photograph of Melissa Ho by Jeff Elkins
Melissa Ho
Curator (20th-Century Art)