Cantor Arts Center launches Asian American Art Initiative

Cantor Arts Center launches Asian American Art Initiative bolstered by major Ruth Asawa acquisition, The Michael Donald Brown Collection and other works
Among the first of its kind, Stanford’s newest hub of interdisciplinary scholarship transforms the museum’s collection and expands research opportunities
By Beth Giudicessi
The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University announced today the establishment of the Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI), a significant effort to acquire, preserve, display and research art related to Asian American and Asian diaspora artists and their practices.
The initiative is anchored by the museum’s acquisition of 233 ceramic masks that comprise Untitled (LC. 012, Wall of Masks) by Ruth Asawa and 141 artworks from The Michael Donald Brown Collection, a privately assembled group of pieces created between 1880 and 1996 by Asian American artists. In recent months, the Cantor also obtained 25 photographs by the San Francisco and Los Angeles photographer Michael Jang, Blue Mountain No. 4 from the estate of Bernice Bing, Emissary Sunsets the Self by Ian Cheng and Untitled (Dragon With Two Children) from the Martin Wong Foundation.
“These acquisitions not only fundamentally change the Cantor’s collection of American art – transforming us into one of the leading collections of Asian American art in the country – they are also poised to help change the history of American art as it has been written thus far,” said Aleesa Alexander, assistant curator of American art at the Cantor.
“With the exception of a few major figures, Asian Americans remain in the shadows of American art,” said Marci Kwon, assistant professor in the Stanford Department of Art and Art History in the School of the Humanities and Sciences. “The Cantor’s recent acquisitions demonstrate the historical depth and heterogeneity of Asian American art and the complexity of the term “Asian American” itself. Much work remains to be done to understand the complex legacies of these makers. The AAAI will activate this repository through interdisciplinary scholarship, digital documentation and community engagement.”
Alexander and Kwon, founding co-directors of the AAAI, will work together to shape the AAAI as a hub of study through collecting and exhibiting work by Asian American artists, forging new research connections among disciplines and supporting undergraduate and graduate research in the field. They also hope to engage community members across the Bay Area as the initiative takes further shape. A related conference and exhibition are planned for fall 2022 to rethink and reimagine the historical and theoretical dimensions of Asian American art and aesthetics.
This initiative exemplifies the ways Stanford is leveraging its distinctive faculty expertise and cultural assets to empower discovery, creativity and diverse voices and to advance new directions in the arts. The AAAI will be centered at the Cantor and will engage collaborators from Stanford’s Department of Art and Art History, Department of History and the Center for East Asian Studies, as well as from the Office of the Vice President for the Arts, Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Anderson Collection at Stanford University and the Stanford Libraries (Special Collections and University Archives and the Ute and Bill Bowes Art and Architecture Library).
Additional partners include head librarian of the Ute and Bill Bowes Art and Architecture Library at Stanford D. Vanessa Kam, San Francisco State University Professor of Art Mark Dean Johnson and Gordon Chang, Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, professor of American history and senior associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford University.
“The Asian American Art Initiative arrives at a moment in which white supremacy, xenophobia and discrimination against immigrants are once again on the rise,” Kwon said. “These forces are not new, nor are their effects limited to Asian Americans. The study of Asian American artists sheds light on the entwined histories of racism, settler colonialism and capitalism, which have affected all ethnic groups in this country. Their work helps us see the myriad ways people of color have lived, struggled and survived.”