East of the Pacific: Making Histories of Asian American Art is the largest of the three inaugural Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) exhibitions opening at the Cantor Arts Center in 2022. Curated by assistant curator of American Art, Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, this historical survey showcases the Cantor’s ever-growing collection of Asian American art, the majority of which was acquired since 2018. Organized thematically and chronologically, the 96 objects presented in East of the Pacific span a broad range of time (1880 – 2021), offering a rare opportunity to engage with historic Asian American material.
East of the Pacific asks: what it would mean to consider a history of the United States as one of Eastern expansion from Asia? How might we reorient our understanding of what constitutes Asian, and what constitutes American, through looking at artists who worked between these worlds? This exhibition argues that the continental United States’ western coast was—and continues to be—fundamentally shaped by its interactions with Asia, which is especially evident in its artistic production. Though long overlooked by mainstream art institutions, Asian diasporic artists have helped shape and advance the course of American art, serving as vanguards, teachers, and activists within their communities and beyond.
Works in East of the Pacific were acquired from a variety of sources. A significant percentage of the objects presented came from the estate of Michael Donald Brown, a Bay Area arts dealer and collector who amassed an unparalleled collection of pre-1950 Asian Californian art. Many gifts of art reflect the generosity and support of larger Bay Area arts and AAPI communities: living artists, historic artists’ estates, Japanese incarceration survivors, and contemporary art collectors all contributed to this exhibition. The provenance of these objects tells stories about how Asian American art has been created, cared for, and preserved—demonstrating that history-making is an active and ongoing process.
“This exhibition is a testament to the power of community and collaboration,” Alexander said. “It is dedicated to the artists represented and their families, as well as important foundational figures to the history of Asian American art, like scholars Mark Dean Johnson and Gordon Chang. Without their support, Marci Kwon and I would not be able to do the work of the Asian American Art Initiative.” Alexander continues, “East of the Pacific just scratches the surface of Asian American art history. Not all Asian diasporas are equitably represented. There is much to celebrate here, but working on this exhibition has made clear to me just how much more there is to do.”
Artists represented in the exhibition include Toshio Aoki (Japanese, active in U.S.A., 1854–1912), Bernice Bing (American, 1936–1998), Chiura Obata (American, born in Japan, 1885–1975), Toshiko Takaezu (American, 1922–2011), Carlos Villa (American, 1936–2013), Martin Wong (American, 1946-1999), and Jade Fon Woo (American, 1911–1983). To accompany the exhibition, the Asian American artist performance collective For You, comprised of Erika Chong Shuch and Ryan Tacata, was commissioned to create a series of bespoke audio tours.
The Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) publicly launched at the Cantor Arts Center in 2021. Co-directed by Alexander and Marci Kwon, assistant professor in Stanford’s Department of Art and Art History, the AAAI is dedicated to the study of artists and makers of Asian descent. The AAAI encompasses a range of activities, including: collecting and exhibiting works of Asian American/diaspora artists; preserving archival materials; fostering undergraduate and graduate education; and cultivating community collaboration and dialogue through public programming.
The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.