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Northwest Modernism: Four Japanese Americans

Mar 20 2021 – Ongoing

Seattle Art Museum

Third Floor Galleries

Located in the far northwest corner of the contiguous United States, Seattle is oriented more to the Pacific than to Europe, and many of its artists looked to Asia in shaping the region’s singular form of modernism. Some practiced sumi-e (ink painting) and calligraphy as pathways to abstraction; others discovered in Zen a model of self-knowledge and unmitigated expression; still others traveled to Japan and China and experienced those cultures directly. Artists of Asian descent experienced, on balance, an inclusive artistic environment, despite facing discrimination within the larger community, most tragically during World War II.

This gallery celebrates four of Seattle’s leading Japanese American artists: Kenjiro Nomura, Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and George Tsutakawa. As Issei and Nisei (first- and second-generation Japanese Americans, respectively), all were raised in traditional Japanese families and educated in the arts and culture of their parentage. This shared legacy brought them solidarity as they established themselves within Seattle’s mid-20th-century cultural scene, sharing ideas, friendship, exhibition space, and common cause with their fellow Northwest Modernists. Their stories reflect the historical diversity of the Pacific Northwest and its artists, adding further depth to 20th-century American art.

Lead funding for this installation was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Image: Monolithic Impasse, 1964, Paul Horiuchi, casein on mulberry paper mounted to canvas, 77 9/16 x 78 9/16 in., Gift of the Seattle Art Museum Guild, 79.6, © Estate of Paul Horiuchi.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.