Asian Art

The Denver Art Museum's Asian art collection originated in 1915 with a donation of Chinese and Japanese art objects from a single passionate collector and has broadened to include works from the entire Asian continent. Spanning a period from the fourth millennium B.C. to the present, these objects illustrate the wide-ranging achievements of Asian artists and artisans.

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Jesse and Nellie Shwayder Galleries, William Sharpless Jackson Jr. Gallery, Walter + Mona Lutz Gallery & Bj Averitt Gallery, Level 5, North Building

The Asian art collection has occupied the galleries on the fifth floor of the North Building since it opened in 1971. The Jesse and Nellie Shwayder Galleries encompass 22,000 square feet of space and display changing selections from the museum’s collection and loans. Geographic galleries are devoted to the arts of China, India, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and Tibet and Nepal. Thematic galleries include objects associated with the Scholar’s Tradition and Bamboo in East Asia, Everyday Traditions in South and Southeast Asia, and Buddhist Art.

The William Sharpless Jackson Jr. Gallery provides visitors with the opportunity to explore particular aspects of Asian art in greater depth. It features changing exhibitions drawn from the museum's extensive holdings and guest exhibitions from other Asian art collections. William Sharpless Jackson Jr.’s connection with Asia began during World War II when he served in the Asian Pacific Theater. A half century after he returned to Colorado, he made a commitment “to engender mutual understanding and esteem among all peoples and nations through the appreciation and enjoyment of Asian art.” 

Displays of bamboo art from China, Japan, and Korea are shown in the Walter + Mona Lutz Gallery, a space dedicated exclusively for artwork made of bamboo. Walter E. Lutz (1910–2003) met his future wife Mona Miwako Furuki on Christmas day 1945 in Oiso, Japan. Avid collectors of bamboo artwork, they visited antique dealers and bamboo artists throughout Japan. During the 1960s and 1970s, they traveled to other Asian countries and collected additional bamboo items. The Lutz Bamboo Collection became a family love affair, and the Denver Art Museum is the fortunate recipient of more than 900 gifts from three generations of the Lutz family—Walter and Mona, Tina and Michael Chow, Adelle Lutz and David Byrne, China Chow, Maximilian Chow, and Malu Byrne.

The Bj Averitt Gallery features art from Southwest Asia, including examples from the Anatolian and Arabian peninsulas, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Objects in the gallery represent many millennia of art, beginning with the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, and following the flourishing and growth of Islam to the present day. Regions where this culture spread, such as Africa, Southern Europe, and Southeast Asia, also are represented. Many of the artworks on display were collected to explore the movement of ideas east and west through this region, a plan fostered by Bj Averitt through her many contributions and more than 40 years of service to the Asian Art Department and the Denver Art Museum. Developing an interest in Islamic art as a child traveling in Egypt and acting as the staff aide for the Asian Art Department from 1976 to 2007, she established the Bj Averitt Islamic Art Fund to promote an understanding and appreciation of Islamic art.

Collection

The Denver Art Museum's Asian art collection originated in 1915 with a donation of Chinese and Japanese art objects from a single passionate collector and has broadened to include works from the entire Asian continent. Spanning a period from the fourth millennium B.C. to the present, these objects illustrate the wide-ranging achievements of Asian artists and artisans.

The initial gift from Walter C. Mead (1866–1951), who pledged his Asian art collection to the people of Denver in 1915, prompted the Denver Art Museum to include Asian art in its representation of world art. The Mead Collection was first exhibited at the Denver Museum of Natural History and transferred to the Denver Art Museum's new galleries in the Denver City and County Building in 1932–33. Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Mead moved to Denver at the age of 18 to work for the Denver Water Company, then presided over by his uncle, Walter S. Cheesman, after whom Cheesman Park is named. Mead traveled extensively and gathered works of art for his collection while seeing the world. In 1937, Mead sold the remainder of his collection—-including several thousand Asian art objects—to the Denver Art Museum for the nominal sum of one dollar.

Beginning in 1946, a series of gifts from Harry B. Goodwin (1876–1971) and his wife, Mary Guthrie Goodwin (d. 1956), helped establish the museum's collection of South and Southeast Asian art. From 1956 to 1968, the Asian art collection was shown in the Oriental Museum, a separate branch of the museum located on 14th Avenue where the Denver Art Museum now stands. The Goodwins' interest in South Asian art developed through Mrs. Goodwin’s brother, Walter Guthrie, who was the chief representative of the Standard Oil Company in India. The Goodwins made their initial gift of South Asian art in 1946, followed in 1948 by additional Indian objects that Mrs. Goodwin had inherited from her brother. Mr. Goodwin donated a final group of South Asian objects to the museum in 1971 when he was 94.

In addition to the Asian art department, other departments of the Denver Art Museum collect Asian art. Asian textiles from the textile art department are shown in the Asian art galleries as well as the Neusteter Textile Gallery, and examples of Asian art are part of the departments of architecture, design, and graphics; modern and contemporary art; New World art; and photography.

For more detailed descriptions of the Asian art department, its collections, and past events, please visit the department archive website: http://www.denverartmuseum-asian.org/.

Support Group

Founded in 1981 to support acquisition and conservation programs for the Asian art department, the Asian Art Association (AAA) offers symposia, exhibitions, receptions, and lectures. AAA members also share their interest and expertise in Asian art through social events and trips throughout the country and abroad. Learn more about the AAA at www.asianartassociation.org or on the DAM Support Groups page.

Current Staff

  • Ronald Y. Otsuka, Dr. Joseph de Heer Curator of Asian Art
  • Douglas R. Wagner, Curatorial Assistant
  • Patty Williams, Master Teacher
  • Dariya Bryant, Curator's Circle Coordinator
  • Chelsea Finical, Provenance Research Assistant

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