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 Dong Kingman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Chiura Obata, and Alfonso Ossorio; mid-twentieth-century works of abstraction by Leo Amino, Yayoi Kusama, Isamu Noguchi, Kay Sekimachi, and Reuben Tam; and works charting developments in American art since the 1970s by Ching Ho Cheng, Tiffany Chung, Chitra Ganesh, Nancy Hom, Byron Kim, Maya Lin, Hung Liu, Roger Shimomura, Do Ho Suh, Stephanie Syjuco, Tseng Kwong Chi, Zarina, 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 Lee, George Nakashima, Toshiko Takaezu, Akio Takamori, and Wanxin Zhang, among others.
Leo Amino—born in Taiwan in 1911 where his father was an agricultural consultant for the Japanese government—was reared in Tokyo.
Painter and photographer of art. His languid women in repose from the 1930s are significant, but he also painted still lifes and landscapes. He was the first president of Artists Equity and cofounder of the American Artists Congress.
"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.
Kenjiro Nomura painted The Farm [SAAM, 1964.1.36] under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project during the Depression.
Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was one of the most significant Japanese American artists working on the West Coast in the last century.
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.
Born in San Francisco, Kay Sekimachi studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland from 1946 to 1949.
Born in Washington. Painter of Japanese descent who has been a diligent arts educator most of his life.
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.