H E A R T M I N D Portraits from the Bob Eng Lee and Asian American Arts Centre Collections
Established in 1974, the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) is one of the earliest Asian American community arts organizations in the country. Choreographer Eleanor Yung (an original member of the seminal collective Basement Workshop) co-founded AAAC as the Asian American Dance Theatre with the support of her partner Bob Lee, who would become the eventual director. The theatre offered dance lessons and performances out of the New York Public Library and eventually grew to include a visual arts program. In 1987, the dance theatre evolved into the AAAC, but the mission remained the same: to promote and support Asian American art and artists. All the while Lee was collecting artwork — sculptures, drawings, and paintings spanning nearly 40 years of exhibitions and programming. Today, the collection totals about 300 contemporary Asian American art works and about 200 Chinese folk art pieces. This exhibition, co-curated by Lisa Yin Zhang, Simon Wu, and Jayne Cole, highlights just some of this vast collection, sweeping through the history of the storied organization with select works from 18 Asian American artists. The title HEARTMIND is inspired by conversations between the curators, the presenters, and Lee, specifically about Sung Ho Choi’s collage of a Chinese character, which engages what Lee calls the “heartmind” of Asian Americans. The work depicts the character 心 , which in simplest terms translates into English as “heart,” but in Chinese means so much more — feeling, thinking, center, core — and often all at once. So too is “Asian American art”: on the surface a simple term but upon closer look, varied and complex, with multiple facets and phases, many things at once, and ever evolving. At One Pike, on the other side of Chinatown, is a companion exhibition that further engages the history of AAAC and the New York City Asian American arts community. Together, these two exhibitions represent only the first of a long-running intergenerational engagement with a vast, enlightening, and idiosyncratic collection.