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The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has accepted a transformational gift of more than 1,600 works of photography from the Joy of Giving Something (JGS) Foundation. The JGS Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 1998, is renowned for work that explores the intersection of photography and social issues, as well as its support for emerging artists and arts education.

The gift features the work of 123 artists, primarily those of East Asian descent or working in East Asia, from 1930 to now. The addition of these exceptional 20th-century artworks to PEM’s current collection of 19th-century photography makes PEM one of the leading institutions for Asian photography in the U.S. and Europe.   

“We are so grateful for JGS’s extraordinary generosity in supporting PEM’s photography program,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director. “These photographs deepen our museum’s 220-year relationship with East Asian culture and offer a compelling complement to our historic collection of Asian photography.”   

Among the highlights of the gift are rare, early works like an architectural study of the Bauhaus building in Dessau made by Iwao Yamawaki between 1930–1932, which complements a recent PEM acquisition of work by his wife and fellow Bauhaus artist, Michiko Yamawaki. Well-known Japanese artists are represented in a selection of postwar photography by Nobuyoshi Araki, Masahisa Fukase, Miyako Ishiuchi, Daido Moriyama, Toshiko Okanoue, Toshio Shibata, Issei Suda, and Shomei Tomatsu.

Standout works from more recent decades include conceptual photography from China by pioneers Hai Bo, Hong Hao, Hong Lei, Wang Qingsong and Liu Zheng. Edward Burtynsky’s Three Gorges Dam Project, Naoya Hatakeyama’s “Blast” series, and bodies of work by Lynn Davis, Xing Danwen, and Zhang Dali interrogate the impact of human intervention on the environment.

With a keen eye, JGS founder Howard Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, connecting with the most innovative practitioners of photography from around the world and supporting emerging artists with publication projects, scholarships, and related programs. Though Stein died in 2011, his creative legacy lives on and his photographs now join PEM’s collection.

In 2022, PEM will open China Through the Lens, the first large-scale, traveling exhibition of 19th-century photography from China drawn from its collection. “The JGS gift opens up an entirely new realm of opportunities for dialogue between the past and present,” says Stephanie H. Tung, Associate Curator of Exhibitions and Research and co-curator of the exhibition with Karina Corrigan, PEM’s H.A. Crosby Forbes Curator of Asian Art. “We are committed to using our wealth of photography to showcase and explore different ways of seeing the world.”