Unnamable: The Ends of Asian American Art

Susette Min (Author)


Redraws the contours of Asian American art, attempting to free it from a categorization that stifles more than it reveals. Charting its historical conditions and the expansive contexts of its emergence, Susette Min challenges the notion of Asian American art as a site of reconciliation for marginalized artists to enter into the canon or mainstream art scene. Pressing critically on the politics of visibility and recognition and how this categorization reduces artworks by Asian American artists within narrow parameters of interpretation, Unnamable reconceives Asian American art not as a subset of objects, but as a discursive medium that sets up the conditions for a politics to occur. By approaching Asian American art in this way, Min refigures the way we see Asian American art as an oppositional practice, less in terms of its aspirations to be seen--its greater visibility--and more in terms of how it models a different way of seeing and encountering the world. Uniquely presented, the chapters are organized thematically as mini-exhibitions, and offer readings of select works by contemporary artists including Tehching Hsieh, Byron Kim, Simon Leung, Mary Lum, and Nikki S. Lee. Inspired above all by their art practice, Min argues for an alternative approach to exhibition making and methods of reading that conceives of these works not as "exemplary"instances of Asian American art, but as engaged in an aesthetic practice that remains open-ended, challenging the assumptions that racialize artists within an "Asian American" context . Ultimately, Unnamable insists that in order to reassess Asian American art and beyond its place in art history, we may need to let go not only of established viewing and curatorial practices, but potentially even the category of Asian American art itself as we know it.

Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
June 05, 2018
6.0 X 0.8 X 9.0 inches | 0.9 pounds

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About the Author

Susette Min is Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis, where she teaches Asian American studies, art history, curatorial studies, and cultural studies. She is also an independent curator.


"Susette Min unites critical, curatorial, and historical praxis in this far-ranging account of--and call for--the necessarily plural, unending encounter with artworks and artists named 'Asian American.'" -Sarita Echavez See, author of The Filipino Primitive
"In her exquisitely perceptive approach to art and curation, Susette Min turns the category of Asian American art on its head. The artists surveyed in Unnamable wrestle with the 'predicament' of being categorized as an Asian American artist. Through textured, impeccably-researched, and richly-rendered examinations of their works, Min curates these avant garde practitioners into delightful group shows focused on the themes of labor, practices of gleaning, and the disappearing body of the Asian/American artist. A provocative challenge to liberal multiculturalism's fetish for and diminishment of ethnic and/or minority artists, Unnamable reformulates the category of Asian American art, and by doing so, revitalizes its enclosing structure."-Rachel C. Lee, author of The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America