Worcester Art Museum Challenges Assumptions about Asian Art with “Im/Perfect Modernisms: Asian Art and Identity Since 1945”

The Exhibition Will Explore Cultural Identity, Resistance, and Transformation in Modern Asian Art, Opening This Fall

Fukuda Shigeo, 'Mirror', 20th century, screenprint
G. R. Santosh, 'Untitled', 1978, oil on canvasboard

[Worcester, May 14, 2024] – This fall, the Worcester Art Museum will open Im/Perfect Modernisms: Asian Art and Identity Since 1945, an exhibition exploring how artists in Asia have engaged with the realities and legacies of colonization, war, and cultural transformation in the modern era. Thought-provoking, observant, and at times subversive, the 21 artworks in this exhibition demonstrate the range and originality of modernist styles created across Asia, which have often been devalued by Western art historical narratives. Im/Perfect Modernisms draws exclusively from the Museum’s collection, and over half the featured works will be on view for the first time at WAM. The exhibition will include works by renowned artists active in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including Shigeo Fukuda (1932–2009), Zhang Huan (b. 1965), and Bharti Kher (b. 1969). Various media will be represented, including woodblock prints, ceramics, paintings, photography, and video art. This exhibition is curated by Yagnaseni Datta, WAM’s Sohail and Mona Masood Assistant Curator of Asian and Islamic Art and will be on view October 5, 2024–January 20, 2025.

“In the context of modernism, the narrative of art history has often centered on Western Europe and North America,” said Datta. “Im/Perfect Modernisms invites visitors to question and contemplate the influence of this narrative on artmaking and art-viewing for Asian artists, fostering a deeper understanding of the role of “modern” on Asian Art.”

This exhibition challenges the assumptions of the Western canon of art history, in which modernism in Asian art has been seen by its critics as an adoption from the West. This resulted in an ambivalent environment for Asian artists since Asia had become the “other.” Im/Perfect Modernism seeks to ask the question: what kind of art comes of out such environments? Featuring artists from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, China, South Korea, and Japan, the exhibition will offer a view into the complexities of cultural identity, resistance, and transformation in these post-colonial nation-states. Im/Perfect Modernisms invites visitors to participate in the discussion around modern and contemporary art in Asia. By exploring diverse perspectives and artistic expressions, the exhibition presents an engaging journey through themes of the urban/rural binary, mischief and subversion, violence, loss, and erasure, encouraging visitors to contribute their own thoughts and interpretations.

Significant artworks include Masami Teraoka’s woodblock print, 31 Flavors Invading Japan/Today’s Special, depicts a light-haired young woman licking an ice cream; the work is a commentary on how the hedonism and indulgence of ukiyo-e, or “the floating world,” gave way to the invasion of consumerism and over-consumption in Japan. G.R. Santosh’s painting, Untitled, experiments with abstraction and cubism to express the artist’s spiritual affinity towards Tantra – a philosophical tradition rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, that is based on transmuting energies leading to ascension. Sung Jae Choi’s Rectangular Buncheong Vase with Designs of Ducks on Water at Sunrise uses the space created by the object’s white clay as an abstracted landscape on which to harmonize the calligraphic strokes of his brush that take the form of ducks. Additionally, the exhibition will have a counterpart installation, Red Fiery (North Vietnam’s offensive against South Vietnam in the summer of 1972) by Tuan Andrew Nguyen, made in 2022. The work is a large-scale mobile with plate bells cast from brass artillery shells. Hammers attached to the mobile beat the bells tuned to 432 Hz, which is considered by many to be a healing frequency. It will be accompanied by Ngyuen’s video art, The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon, featured at regular intervals. Together, the installation and video art intersect with many of the themes presented in the exhibition and explore how issues Asian artists grappled with in the late 20th century persist today.

“This exhibition marks the beginning of exciting initiatives in the Museum that will introduce a more rounded vision for the presentation of Asian art at the Worcester Art Museum,” said Claire Whitner, the Director of Curatorial Affairs and the James A. Welu Curator of European Art. “We are excited to share Im/Perfect Modernisms with our visitors and invite them to discover these diverse, inspiring, and, at times, challenging works of modern and contemporary Asian art from our permanent collection.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a film series offering glimpses of the vast and diverse landscape of Asian cinema. Seldom seen on the big screen, each film provides a window into a different culture, perspective, and a way of seeing the world.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Fletcher Foundation.

About the Worcester Art Museum

The Worcester Art Museum creates transformative programs and exhibitions, drawing on its exceptional collection of art. Dating from 3000 BCE to the present, these works provide the foundation for a focus on audience engagement, connecting visitors of all ages and abilities with inspiring art and demonstrating its enduring relevance to daily life. Creative initiatives— including pioneering collaborative programs with local schools, fresh approaches to exhibition design and in-gallery teaching, and a long history of studio class instruction—offer opportunities for diverse audiences to experience art and learn both from and with artists.

The Worcester Art Museum, located at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester, MA, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. For more information, visit worcesterart.org.

For more information, please contact:

Madeline Feller
Worcester Art Museum

Sascha Freudenheim
PAVE Communications & Consulting