Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art Announces a Gift From Nancy Chang Lee To Endow a Curatorship in Chinese Art

July 15, 2022
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The National Museum of Asian Art has established the position of the Nancy Chang Lee Curator of Chinese Art, thanks to a gift from Nancy Lee, a member of the museum’s board of trustees. The gift will fully fund a range of costs associated with the curatorial position, including research. 

“This generous gift from Nancy Lee comes at a pivotal moment for our institution as we prepare for our centennial in 2023,” said Chase F. Robinson, the museum’s Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “One of our major goals is to welcome new and diverse audiences from around the world, both onsite and online. This position will generate additional opportunities to connect with audiences in China and across Asia—of key importance during this moment of unprecedented global interdependence.” The position also builds on a commitment to provide stable funding for staff positions. In 2021, the Elizabeth Moynihan Curatorship for South and Southeast Asian Art was endowed with a gift from the Leon Levy Foundation.

Since its opening in 1923, the museum has collected, exhibited and shared iconic Chinese works of art and their contexts, providing thousands of visitors with opportunities to appreciate more fully the arts, histories and cultures of China. Today, exhibitions, research, publications, public programs and digital tools on the topic continue to enrich people’s global understanding. 

“The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is an invaluable global resource to learn about China and other Asian cultures,” Lee said. “We hope that audiences in Asia, especially China, will be drawn to the museum. I’m honored to support the National Museum of Asian Art’s mission and vision, and delighted to see Chase’s leadership invigorating the institution.”

The museum holds one of the finest collections of Chinese art in the world, with masterworks in every medium. Ranging in date from the Neolithic period to today, the Chinese collections number nearly 13,000 objects, remarkable for their quality, diversity and depth. The National Museum of Asian Art has a team of two Chinese art curators, specializing in ancient Chinese art and Chinese arts from the 10th century forward; three conservators specialize in Chinese paintings.  

“I’m incredibly grateful to my board colleague Nancy Lee for her ongoing support of our museum’s mission and her strong commitment and active participation as a trustee,” said Antoine van Agtmael, the museum’s board chair. “This gift—together with other gifts to endow positions—will help attract the best curatorial talent and demonstrates the museum’s ambitious investment in its staff and its future.”

Exploring the breadth and depth of the Chinese art collection, recent exhibitions have taken a range of forms from small and unexpected, such as “Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko,” to large international loan exhibitions, such as “Empress of the China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912” co-organized with the Peabody Essex Museum and Palace Museum (Beijing) in 2019. The next major exhibition of Chinese art, serving as a lead exhibition for the museum’s centennial in 2023, is “Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings.” Featuring over 200 artifacts, it will be the first major exhibition in the United States dedicated to Anyang—the capital of China’s Shang dynasty, the birthplace of Chinese archaeology and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

About Nancy Chang Lee

Lee lives in Hong Kong and has served as chairman of the Friends of the Hong Kong Museum of Art since 2005. Born in Ecuador from a diplomatic family, Lee spent her early life in Latin America before moving to the U.S. 

She studied chemistry at Lake Forest College, physical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University and art history at University College London and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Her areas of interest include Chinese painting, ceramics and bronzes, and 16th–17th-century Spanish painting.

Lee was editor of Orientations magazine and has been involved in numerous arts organizations in Hong Kong, including the Ink Society. As chairman of the Friends of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Lee has spearheaded many public outreach programs, and she has been instrumental in the recent renovation and expansion of the museum and the drive to enrich its collection. She serves on the board of directors of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, is a member of the advisory committee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Art Museum, is a trustee of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and recently retired from the Princeton University Art Museum Advisory Council. 

Lee has been on the board of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art since 2017, with special interest in the Chinese department.  

About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Committed to preserving, exhibiting and interpreting exemplary works of art, the museum houses exceptional collections of Asian art, with more than 45,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today. Renowned and iconic objects originate from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. The museum also holds a significant group of American works of art largely dating to the late 19th century. It boasts the world’s largest collection of diverse works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room. The National Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to increasing understanding of the arts of Asia through a broad portfolio of exhibitions, publications, conservation, research and education. 

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Jennifer Mitchell