About the Exhibition
For thousands of years, people have made treacherous journeys across bodies of water. Apart from Indigenous and First Nations peoples, all inhabitants of North America are the product of such transoceanic movement. This exhibition considers the ongoing artistic impact of many peoples’ migration across a particular body of water: the Pacific Ocean. What would it mean to understand the United States as being situated not just west of the Atlantic but east of the Pacific? How would this understanding reorient our perception of American art and its significant participants? The works of art presented date from the mid-nineteenth century through the present day. Organized in chronological sections that highlight key moments of intersection between Asia and the United States, this exhibition features artists who worked between and beyond these worlds.
East of the Pacific: Making Histories of Asian American Art is the largest of three inaugural Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) exhibitions to open at the Cantor Arts Center. Publicly launched in 2021, the AAAI is dedicated to the study of artists and makers of Asian descent and aims to establish Stanford as a leading academic and curatorial center for the study of Asian American art and history. The AAAI is co-directed by Marci Kwon, assistant professor of Art and Art History, and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, Robert M. and Ruth L. Halperin Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
In addition to featuring artists of Asian descent, East of the Pacific pays tribute to those who set the stage for the AAAI. Scholars Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Margo Machida laid critical groundwork for the field of Asian American art, with work featured in the landmark study Asian American Art: A History, 1850–1970 (Stanford University Press, 2008). Many of the works on view appeared in the groundbreaking Bay Area exhibitions With New Eyes: Towards an Asian American Art History in the West (San Francisco State University Art Department Gallery, 1995) and Asian/American/Modern: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970 (de Young, 2008). Others are drawn from the 141 objects the Cantor acquired from an unparalleled collection of Asian American art amassed by the collector Michael Donald Brown, and from additional recent gifts from artists, artist estates, and collectors intended to bolster the AAAI. The Cantor recognizes the scholarly contributions and generosity of this community that enables a rethinking of our artistic past toward a reimagining of our cultural future.
East of the Pacific cannot tell a comprehensive story of Asian American art. Due to the current collection strengths and the historical migration patterns from Asia to the United States, the exhibition primarily focuses on artists of East Asian descent. South and Southeast Asian Americans, and artists from the Pacific Islands, are little represented. Future projects and acquisitions aim to address this gap. Nevertheless, the show celebrates that the Cantor now has one of the most extensive collections of Asian American art at any American university art museum. The collection continues to grow strategically and intentionally, acknowledging current limitations while simultaneously addressing them.