A Long and Tumultuous Relationship” East-West Interchanges in American Art

October 1–2, 2009

This two-day symposium explores the complicated interactions between American and Asian artists and visual traditions from the eighteenth century to the present. The history of American art has long been discussed primarily in terms of European training and influence. When scholars have looked eastward, they often have considered the Asian influence on art of the United States as a unidirectional and limited development, suggesting that Asian culture was monolithic and unchanging while characterizing American artists as dynamic and original in their ability to absorb and meld the best of diverse global outlooks. This multidisciplinary conference focuses instead on what scholar Bert Winther-Tamaki has called in his book Art in the Encounter of Nations the "contentious interdependency" born out of a "long and tumultuous relationship" between East and West.

Papers by both senior and emerging scholars and curators explore cultural interactions in a variety of “contact zones” ranging from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States to venues of artistic production in India, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Speakers consider the circulation of artists, objects, and ideas over time and the impact of these crossings on art and culture at large; reflect on the changing face of Orientalism; look at international conversations about race and identity; and explore developments in studio craft and the import market.

“A Long and Tumultous Relationship”: East-West Interchanges in American Art was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in partnership with the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. It was supported by a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art, which is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of American art for national and international audiences.

The symposium proceedings were published by Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press in 2012 along with an introduction by symposium organizer, Cynthia Mills, and two essays by co-organizers, Lee Glazer and Amelia Goerlitz, on the Smithsonian's research resources relating to East-West exchange. A full PDF of the book (East-West Interchanges in American Art: A Long and Tumultuous Relationship) is available for downloading at no cost on Figshare. 

Symposium Webcast Playlist

Contact Us

For symposium information, please email AmericanArtSymposium@si.edu or telephone Amelia Goerlitz at +1 (202) 633-8353. Faxes may be sent to +1 (202) 633-8372.


The collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery offer a significant resource for the study of Asian American interchanges. The Asian Pacific American Program provides vision, leadership, and support for Asian Pacific American (APA) activities at the Smithsonian Institution, while serving as a liaison to APA communities.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum logo, and the Terra Foundation logo