Thursday, December 18, 2008

Famous and Forgotten Asian American Artists

An exhibit of obscure and mostly forgotten Asian American artists from 1900-1970 turned out to be the real surprise at the de Young Museum on Tuesday.

Though the works span different mediums in every kind of style, incorporating elements from their home cultures in some cases and not at all in others, what binds most of the work together is its sheer quality. Ruth Asawa was the only name I recognized, and the exhibit made me want to see more of these mostly forgotten artists. (Are you reading, Asian Art Museum?)

Special thanks should go to the co-curators, Daniell Cornell, from the Palm Springs Museum of Art, and Mark Johnson, a professor of art at San Francisco State University.

As usual, photography was not allowed in the "special" galleries in the basement so you'll just have to take my word about the Asian American exhibit. It's running concurrently with a group of wood and wire sculptures that mime natural topography by Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin.

"2x4 Landscape," in the photos above, has been installed in the soulless Dede Wilsey Airline Terminal lobby, and it helps to give the space a bit of warmth...

...and it actually looks good with the fuzzy Richter piece on the wall behind it.

The biggest problem with many of the works in the basement was that they really invited touching, but there were surly faced security guards everywhere making sure that any sensual experience was strictly non-tactile. It felt a bit like prison.


markley said...

Yes, I too loved the Asian-American artists exhibit. The paintings and sculptures are so varied. Several remind me of other painters - Renoir, Picasso, Diego Rivera - but in a good way, they didn't seem derivative but were fresh takes.

I read later that there are two works by Yoko Ono in the show. I thought I looked at everything so I don't know how I missed them and regret not seeing them.

I was particularly fascinated by paintings by Ibuki Lee's parents. You know Ibuki from the Thursday peace vigil. There are two paintings by both her father and mother, Matsuaburo and Hisako Hibi. It's wonderful to see them.

sfmike said...

Dear Markley: Thanks for the info. Which one were the Hibi paintings? Were they the ones from the camps (which were extraordinary)?

markley said...

Yes, one painting by each is from the internment camp. Matsuaburo's is a view of Topaz on a cold, gray day; Hisako's shows a woman fetching coal under a red sky. Both are powerful.