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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation
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    An Invisible State exhibition installation

An Invisible State: Asian American Artists and Abstraction

April 23, 2020 - June 30, 2022
Palm Desert, CA


“To finally recognize our own invisibility is to finally be on the path toward visibility. Invisibility is not a natural state for anyone.” – Mitsuye Yamada

Heather James presents an exhibition exploring the art of Asian American artists. The exhibition examines the abstraction pioneered by these artists, particularly after World War II. Rather than trace any stylistic or thematic commonality amongst the artists because of a shared ethnicity, the exhibition instead presents an intimate survey of Asian American abstract artists.

The exhibition’s title comes from an essay by poet Mitsuye Yamada describing that liminal space many Asian Americans find themselves within the U.S. Not quite seen, not quite heard. The title and the show carry with them multivalent understanding. The exhibition seeks to shed light on this history of abstraction by Asian American artists thus rendering the invisible visible. Taken as a whole, it meditates on and opens up the different conversations around abstraction that have often been left out from mainstream art historical discussions.

For example, Tadaaki Kuwayama was and has been at the forefront of minimalist art since his move to New York in 1958 from Japan. From the 1960s, the artist switched from traditional Japanese paints and pigments to commercially available household paints and colors. His use of spray paint appears to erase the hand of the artist while the aluminum mounts suggest mechanical production. Through these techniques, Kuwayama cements some of the central tenets of minimalism’s investigation into the means of art production. The title is also a sly hint to Kuwayama who said that, while some may claim his work is not art because the hand of the artist is missing, “Art is more like [what happens in] the brain.”

In the exhibition there are also early works by Masako Takahashi, a San Francisco Bay Area artist born in the Topaz Relocation Center during World War II. In these works, we see the conversations with the San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism. Many in this West Coast development were inspired by the brushwork of Japanese artists and thus, in Takahashi’s paintings, we see a sort of doubling back onto the conversations between Asian and American artists.

Like Takahashi, Shingo Francis was born in the U.S. He is the son of Sam Francis. Francis’s minimalist paintings explore form and color and the boundary of perception. Francis has said, “What the boundary represents is the interaction, the point between these two entities. It expands not just into culture, but it can include personality and psychology, so it became kind of a greater boundary.”

Asian American identity is difficult to express because it encompasses people who trace their heritage from a vast array of cultures. Another approach to the title is in understanding this “invisible” alliance between vast cultures and countries of origin – an invisible state that has real consequences. Exhibited alongside Japanese American artists are the Indian American Siddharth Parasnis and Vietnamese American Tomas Vu. Parasnis’s work is at once a cityscape and an abstraction occupied with the physical qualities of paint and color. Vu’s paintings, on the other hand, are imagined spaces packed with the trauma and drama of technology and post-industrial advances.

No exhibition can ever claim to be the definitive survey of Asian American artists. Instead, this exhibition provides contemplation on the contributions by these artists to abstraction and revolves around invisible states – from identity to visual perception.

Other artists in the exhibition include Teruko Yokoi, Tadasky (Tadasuke) Kuwayama, Kaoru Mansour, and Naoto Nakagawa.