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The historic American art collection was the founding collection at the ASU Art Museum. Although one of the museum's smallest collections today, it is surprisingly strong in terms of the artists represented and the individual works.
Oliver B. James, a Phoenix attorney, anonymously donated 16 paintings to Arizona State University in 1950. His goal was to provide students, faculty, school children and the general public in Arizona with the opportunity to view and be inspired by original works of art. Over the next five years, James thoughtfully acquired and donated close to 150 works of primarily American art working with Paula Kloster, director of the art department and soon curator of the collection. While James also collected Mexican and European paintings, prints and sculpture, his primary goal was to represent the major art movements in American history. The resulting collection traces American art history from 19th century portraits, genre paintings and landscapes, early 20th century Ash Can School paintings of New York City street life, and early and mid-20th century modernism.We receive regular requests from museums or curators to borrow a work from the James collection for an exhibition. Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s painting Girl on a Sofa (1925) is currently on display in an important solo exhibition of the artist’s work at the American Art Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition traces the Japanese-born American modernist’s career of paintings and drawings. Other recent loans include Charles Demuth’s A Sky after El Greco (1919) to the Museo del Prado in 2014; Edward Hopper’s House by a Road (1942) to a retrospective of his work at the Galeries Nationales at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2012-2013; and John Sloan’s Roof Gossips: Greenwich Village (1913) to three museums, including the Delaware Art Museum in 2008 for an exhibition of Sloan’s views of New York city life.