Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience (exhibition)


Retrospective exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) featuring the work of Issei artist Henry Sugimoto, who was best known for his depictions of the wartime incarceration experience, many of them executed while he was confined at the Fresno, Jerome, and Rohwer camps. Debuting at JANM in 2001, the exhibition subsequently traveled to Sacramento and to Arkansas.

The exhibition's roots go back to 1990, when Sugimoto's estate bequeathed 142 works to JANM upon his passing. With the success of its The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942–1945 exhibition—which featured some of Sugimoto's work—in 1992 and the opening of its new pavilion in 2000, JANM decided to put together a retrospective exhibition on Sugimoto. Co-curators Karin Higa and Kristine Kim visited Sugimoto's daughter, Madeline Sugimoto, in New York and were surprised to find that she had kept his studio essentially intact and that it held hundreds of additional works, as well as photographs, archival material (including an unpublished memoir), and artifacts. Along with a set of large works that Sugimoto had donated to the Wakayama City Library (Sugimoto was originally from Wakayama prefecture), the works from the JANM bequest augmented by these new discoveries formed the core of the exhibition.

The approximately one hundred works displayed spanned his entire career from his acclaimed European influenced prewar work to the work he did while incarcerated to postwar explorations of Japanese American history. Opening at JANM on March 24, 2001, Painting an American Experience spanned both the JANM's historical building and two galleries in the newly opened pavilion, with the works in the former arranged chronologically and in the latter thematically. Also part of the exhibition was a specially produced documentary film, Harsh Canvas: The Art and Life of Henry Sugimoto, directed by John Esaki, as well as a book length catalog including a biography by Kim that was published by Heyday Books. A full slate of public programs took place over the run of the exhibition, which closed on October 7, 2001.

The exhibition subsequently traveled to the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, California, where it ran from January 26 to March 24, 2002. It was also one of eight exhibitions that opened in the Little Rock, Arkansas, area as part of the Life Interrupted project in 2004. Displayed at the Cox Creative Center of the Central Arkansas Library System, the exhibition was augmented by additional Sugimoto works held by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Cheng, Scarlet. "History Through an Internee's Eyes." Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2001. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/mar/18/entertainment/ca-39163.

Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience on the Japanese American National Museum website. http://www.janm.org/exhibits/sugimoto/.

Kim, Kristine. Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience. Foreword by Lawrence M. Small. Introduction by Karin Higa. Epilogue by Madeline Sugimoto. Translations by Emily Anderson. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2000.

Ollman, Leah. "In Mild Images, the Horror of Internment." Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2001. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/mar/30/entertainment/ca-44453.