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

Media - 1993.70 - SAAM-1993.70_1 - 52086
Double Portrait
watercolor and black ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 2014.16A-FF - SAAM-2014.16A-FF_1 - 119357
Black & White
oil on wood panels
Not on view
Media - 2021.78 - SAAM-2021.78_1 - 147203
New Branches
cast and welded copper and brass on wood base
Not on view
Media - 2021.6 - SAAM-2021.6_1 - 142983
gouache and ink on rag board
On view
Media - 2022.50 - SAAM-2022.50_1 - 146841
The Scorpion Gesture
suite of 5 digital animations, color, sound; 07:59 minutes
Not on view
Media - 2000.76.24 - SAAM-2000.76.24_2 - 134723
El Capitán
color woodcut on paper
Not on view
Media - 2021.31.1 - SAAM-2021.31.1_1 - 142602
The Star-Spangled Banner (Third Verse)
charcoal on paper
On view
Media - 2018.22 - SAAM-2018.22_1 - 137335
Radiator, Corridor/​Ground Floor, 348 West 22nd Street, New…
polyester fabric, stainless steel armature, and display case with LED lighting
Not on view
Media - 1991.121 - SAAM-1991.121_2 - 118461
Conoid Bench
black walnut and hickory
Not on view
Media - 2023.6.1 - SAAM-2023.6.1_1 - 146902
Floating Clouds
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1996.34A-D - SAAM-1996.34A-D_1 - 81767
The Ocean is the Dragon’s World
oil on canvas, painted wood panel, metal support rod, and metal bird cage with wood and ceramic appendages
Not on view
A round grey sculpture with a hole in the center  by Isamu Noguchi
Grey Sun
Arni marble
Not on view
Media - 2010.2A-E - SAAM-2010.2A-E_1 - 73438
Chemical Balance III
prescription pill bottles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy, fluorescent lights
Not on view
Media - 2008.32.3 - SAAM-2008.32.3_1 - 72159
mixed media on paper
Not on view
Media - 2023.11 - SAAM-2023.11_2 - 148245
Self Portrait
Dateca. 1935
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1972.183 - SAAM-1972.183_1 - 62666
Nagare VII
woven nylon monofilament
Not on view
Media - 2017.44.1 - SAAM-2017.44.1_1 - 134168
Date1970, printed 1998
gelatin silver print
On view
Media - 1964.1.36 - SAAM-1964.1.36_1 - 69390
The Farm
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 2012.10 - SAAM-2012.10_1 - 79967
Nut Street Station
Not on view
Media - 2010.23 - SAAM-2010.23_1 - 73854
digital animation, color, silent; 04:00 minutes
Not on view
Media - 2021.14.3 - SAAM-2021.14.3_1 - 143936
Disneyland, California, from the series East Meets West
Date1979, printed 2013
gelatin silver print
On view
Media - 1986.88.1 - SAAM-1986.88.1_2 - 130130
wood: sabicu and ebony
Not on view
Media - 1979.53.18 - SAAM-1979.53.18_1 - 5373
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2002.23 - SAAM-2002.23_1 - 81981
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii
fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound
Not on view
Media - 2006.20 - SAAM-2006.20_1 - 66616
Zen for TV
Date1963, 1976 version
manipulated television set; black and white, silent
Not on view
Media - 1979.53.34 - SAAM-1979.53.34_2 - 134744
Partial Evidences II
acrylic on canvas
On view
Media - 1968.52.9 - SAAM-1968.52.9_1 - 68569
The Shores of Light
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1991.171 - SAAM-1991.171_1 - 11314
Diary: December 121941
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2015.17 - 2015.17_13a.jpg - 122633
Vase with Landscape and Dinosaurs
porcelain with pigment and glaze
On view
Media - 2021.43.2 - SAAM-2021.43.2_1 - 147234
Embedded Rock
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2008.38 - SAAM-2008.38_1 - 70131
Sanctuary at Western Sunset
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2006.26.8 - SAAM-2006.26.8_1 - 69099
Dateca. 1980s
glazed stoneware
Not on view
Media - 2022.51 - SAAM-2022.51_1 - 146372
The Island
single-channel video, color, 5.1 surround sound; 42:00 minutes
Not on view
Media - 2021.72 - SAAM-2021.72_1 - 143066
Warrior with Color Face
high-fired clay with glaze
On view
Media - 1986.6.50 - SAAM-1986.6.50_3 - 135165
Strong Woman and Child
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1986.6.93 - SAAM-1986.6.93_2 - 87801
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2019.32.4 - SAAM-2019.32.4_1 - 138048
Forlorn Spot
watercolor, pastel, ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 2014.42A-D - SAAM-2014.42A-D_1 - 116311
House of Many Rooms
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
Media - J0001791_1b.jpg - 89295
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 Gifuken, 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.

Media - portrait_image_114976.jpg - 138083
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
Media - portrait_image_114969.jpg - 134917
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
born Aligarh, India 1937-died London, England 2020



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.
Media - 1986.6.50 - SAAM-1986.6.50_3 - 135165
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.
Media - 2002.23 - SAAM-2002.23_1 - 81981
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.
Media - 2008.32.2 - SAAM-2008.32.2_1 - 72158
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.


Close of up of clay statue with painted face
Sculptor Wanxin Zhang explores history, politics, and culture through clay
Detail from a painting. Orange and blue organic shapes on a dark blue background.
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.
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.
A critical look at artistic production and the unequal distribution of benefits during the New Deal period
Grace Yasumura
A photograph of an artwork
Checking in with the artist who creates lively and unexpected sculptures from clay.
A photograph of a very colorful face mask
Julia Kwon’s interactive art projects facilitate solidarity and community
A watercolor of a town with a dust storm
A Conversation about American Art and Anti-Asian Sentiment in the Age of COVID-19
A watercolor image of a lake with mountains in the background.
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 selection of artifacts and ephemera from the Nam June Paik Archive
The "Father of Video Art" takes center stage in a new installation and book.
Media - 2019.32.4 - SAAM-2019.32.4_1 - 138048
Discovering four watercolors by Yayoi Kusama in SAAM's Joseph Cornell Study Center
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.
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