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First-Ever Museum Retrospective of Iconic Filipino American Artist and Educator Carlos Villa at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Arts Commission

Large-Scale Installations of Rarely Seen Artworks Explore Global Influences, Immigrant Identity, and Villa’s Activist Legacy.

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SAN FRANCISCO, April 12, 2022 – Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision, co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute, invites you into artist Carlos Villa’s (1936–2013) spectacular, visually magical worlds of feathers and bones, capes and masks, tattoos and blood. The first major museum retrospective dedicated to the work of a Filipino American artist — featuring many works rarely seen before — Worlds in Collision celebrates Villa’s exuberant body of work and enduring influence as a teacher, curator, and activist. Starting this June at the Asian Art Museum, with a concurrent exhibition at the nearby San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery (SFAC), Worlds in Collision is an opportunity for audiences to trace Villa’s movement-spanning career. The exhibition explores Villa’s San Francisco immigrant roots, his adaptation of non-Western creative traditions, and his still-vibrant impact on the art world today.

“Carlos Villa was a legend in creative circles for his groundbreaking, ‘polycultural’ approaches, as well as the inspiration he provided to his countless students at SFAI — including household names like Obama portraitist Kehinde Wiley — yet he remains little known to many fans and scholars of modern and contemporary art. This exhibition could not be more timely, as museums across the world are diligently reexamining the narrative of art history they present,” says Dr. Jay Xu, the Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “We’ve expanded the Asian Art Museum precisely so we could share more contemporary art, and more kinds of contemporary art, than ever before. We’re thrilled to collaborate with so many important San Francisco arts organizations to bring Villa’s important story to new audiences and offer a unique, much-needed perspective on Asian American artistic exchange and cultural identity — to update the canon, if you will.”


“Before, I was told who I was . . .

Through the practice of art, I became who I am.”

         —Carlos Villa

Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is on view from Jun. 17 to Oct. 24, 2022, at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition spreads across two galleries and features 14 of Villa’s mostly large-scale artworks created in the 1970s and early 1980s. These eye-catching, highly textured works freely reference non-Western sources as well as Villa’s own personal history. Villa drew on African, Asian, and Oceanic art and tradition, and he incorporated unexpected materials ranging from hair, spit, and sperm to shells, feathers, mirrors, and silk. He even used his own body and face as a “brush” to impart a kind of signature.

One example, First Impression (1980), was only recently recovered from the crawl space of the artist’s former San Francisco studio. Now in the Asian Art Museum’s collection, the unstretched canvas piece, gridded with ghostly imprints of the artist’s face adorned with tiny bone dolls, captures Villa’s lifelong exploration of his own Filipino heritage as well as his interest in organic materials and their creative coupling with major art movements of the 20th century, such as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.

First Impression, 1980, by Carlos Villa (American, 1936–2013). Bones, hair, rags, and Stuc-O-Life paint (latex with silica, quartz, sand, and fossil remains) on raw unstretched canvas. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Museum purchase, 2020.2. Photography © Estate of Carlos Villa.

The title Worlds in Collision is inspired by a revolutionary course that Carlos Villa taught at SFAI that aimed to decolonize art history’s white, Eurocentric focus, and whose syllabus is still in use. He extended this effort beyond the classroom through public “actions” — an allusion to his interrelated practices of teaching, curating, organizing, and performing — that advocated for dissolving hierarchies between low and high art, promoting community collaboration, and centering the voices of artists of color.

The main presentation takes place in the museum’s Osher Foundation Gallery and showcases an exciting selection of Villa’s surviving constructions (many other similarly significant works were lost or destroyed by the artist himself). Villa’s influence as a teacher and mentor is explored in a section of the exhibition on view in the adjacent Lee Gallery and spotlights sculpture, installation, photographs, and work by Filipino American artists that Villa mentored and taught at SFAI: Michael Arcega in collaboration with Paolo Asuncion; Paul Pfeiffer; and the trio of Eliza O. Barrios, Reanne Estrada, and Jenifer K Wofford, as collective Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. Like Villa, these artists explore overlapping issues of aesthetics, ethnography, identity, and community.

TNT Traysikel, 2019-2020, by Michael Arcega and Paulo Asuncion. Photo courtesy the artist.

A playful highlight is TNT Traysikel by Arcega and Asuncion, a custom-made motorized tricycle-cum-roving karaoke machine. A tribute to San Francisco’s Filipino American history, the Traysikel will be activated for museum programs.

A contemporary work by Sherwin Rio and Lian Ladia on view in the museum’s Shriram Experiential Learning Center honors Villa’s impact as an educator and activist on the wider community and his modeling of an expansive role for contemporary artists outside their studio walls.

One Artist, Two Venues, Many Stories

From Jun. 24 to Aug. 20, 2022, the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries will present Carlos Villa: Roots and Reinvention. This presentation highlights Villa’s art from the 1980s and 1990s, which shifted away from large abstract works with body impressions to works that delved into the history of Filipinos in America, immigration, and Villa’s own family archives. Both exhibition venues (the Asian Art Museum and SFAC) are within walking distance of each other across Civic Center Plaza, and can be easily visited in one day.

Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is curated by Trisha Lagaso Goldberg (SFAI) and Mark Dean Johnson (San Francisco State University), and coordinated at the Asian Art Museum by Abby Chen, the museum’s head of contemporary art. Both Lagaso Goldberg and Johnson worked closely with Villa during his lifetime. The San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries’ exhibition is a project organized by Director Meg Shiffler and Associate Curator Jackie Im in partnership with Lagaso Goldberg and Johnson.

“Carlos Villa was a true voice from the margins who changed the way artists, critics, and activists approached the center,” says co-curator Lagaso Goldberg. “Carlos was a preeminent Asian American artist in the early days of multiculturalism, and this exhibition introduces his work and legacy to a wider audience. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and his works appeared in exhibitions at New York’s Whitney Museum and San Francisco’s de Young — yet his legacy has not received the focused attention it deserves. It’s thrilling to see this first retrospective here at the crossroads of the Tenderloin, the neighborhood he grew up in and that he returned to for inspiration and connection. As Carlos showed us, art-making is community-building and vital to transforming our understanding of the world around us.”


Making the World Smaller — Carlos Villa’s Polycultural Life*

A first-generation Filipino immigrant born in San Francisco, Villa was raised in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood and trained at SFAI (where he taught from 1969 to 2012) and Mills College in Oakland. Troubled by a teacher’s comment that “there is no Filipino art history,” Villa began to study non-Western art in search of his cultural roots. He spent 1964 to 1969 in New York, but — inspired by the late 1960s Third World Liberation consciousness in the Bay Area — Villa moved back to his hometown and changed his approach to art making to more fully reflect these wider perspectives. Visitors to the exhibition will come away with a rich understanding of this social backdrop, as well as the global importance of Villa’s highly original art and teaching career as he sought to forge a new kind of art-world inclusion that mirrored his own experiences, commitment to diversity, and boundary-bending imagination.

“Many of Villa’s works from the 1970s on view at the Asian Art Museum take the form of capes and cloaks, referencing human adornment and ritual objects drawn from traditions of the Philippines and other non-Western cultures,” says exhibition co-curator Johnson. “Striking examples from public and private collections are real highlights of the exhibition, and we’re so lucky to have them. These boldly original works reflect Villa’s interest in the idea of the artist as shaman, as well as his study of ethnographic objects from the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, New Zealand, and elsewhere. They’re visually arresting — often richly decorated with feathers — but most significantly they helped bring Villa’s work to national attention then, and now again today.”

*From the exhibition catalogue essay title by Lucy R. Lippard.


Rituals, Readings, and Karaoke Celebrate Villa’s Legacy

In honor of Carlos Villa’s impact across multiple disciplines — and to celebrate the spirit of play and joy he brought to much of his work — the Asian Art Museum, SFAC, and SFAI have organized a series of public programs and events to appeal to every visitor, from scholars to those looking for a new groove. See websites for time and ticket details; Thursday evenings at the Asian Art Museum are always discounted.

  • Saturday, Jun. 18 (daytime) – Conversations on Carlos Villa: World-Making and Cross-Cultural Solidarity

Featuring wide-ranging discussions punctuated by readings and performances, this festival reflects Villa’s own historical symposia, performances, and gatherings.    

  • Saturday, Jun. 18 (evening, 4 to 6 p.m.) – Free exhibition viewing and opening reception at the SFAC Main Gallery

Festival attendees and others are invited to make their way across the Civic Center Plaza to experience the Carlos Villa: Roots and Reinvention exhibition at the SFAC Galleries in the Veterans Building. 

  • Thursday, Jul. 21 (evening) — Karaoke night with the TNT Traysikel

From oldies to recent classics to today’s new pop standards, jump into the roaming art tricycle and show us what you’ve got.

  • Thursday, Aug. 18 (evening) — Carlos Villa: Lordy Rodriquez “Marking Time” art workshop

Join Bay Area Filipinx artist Lordy Rodriquez for an evening of art-making and remembrance.

  • Thursday, Sept. 15 (evening) — Carlos Villa Listening Party with DJ and dancing

Villa was known for his love of music and incorporating it into his community-centric “actions;” discover tunes from his time, and new ones from ours, and dance into the night.


Exhibition Publication

The exhibition is accompanied by an original, fully illustrated catalogue published by the University of California Press, edited by Mark Dean Johnson and Trisha Lagaso Goldberg, with Sherwin Rio; contributions by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Patrick Flores, Luis Francia, Theodore Gonzalves, Paul Karlstrom, Lucy R. Lippard, and Margo Machida.

Exhibition Locations and Organization

Both the Asian Art Museum and the SFAI presentations were set to debut in mid-2021, but were postponed due to the pandemic. Instead, Worlds in Collision opened, as a single showcase, at the Newark Museum of Art on Feb. 10, 2022; it is on view through May 8, 2022, and was curated by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Curator of American Art.

Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision

Jun.17–Oct. 24, 2022
Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Hours: Fridays–Mondays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.


Carlos Villa: Roots and Reinvention

Jun. 16–Sep. 3, 2022
San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery
401 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 126 (Veterans Building)
San Francisco, CA 94102

Gallery Hours: Wednesdays–Saturdays, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free and open to the public.




Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute.

The presentation at the Asian Art Museum is made possible with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art and Malou Babilonia.

Sustained support generously provided by the following endowed funds:  

Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Endowment Fund for Exhibitions 

Kao/Williams Contemporary Art Exhibitions Fund. 

The presentation at SFAI is made possible with major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

Top image: Carlos Villa, Painted Cloak (recto), 1971. Airbrushed acrylic on unstretched canvas with lining of feathers and taffeta. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photography © Estate of Carlos Villa. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

About the Asian Art Museum

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art, with more than 18,000 awe-inspiring artworks ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations. Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future.

Information: 415.581.3500 or

Location: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Hours: Thursdays: 1 p.m.–8 p.m.; Fridays–Mondays: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays, as well as New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Museum Admission: Free for members, essential workers, SFUSD students, children 12 and under, and active-duty military. $15 for adults and $10 for ages 65 & over, ages 13 to 17), and college students (with ID). Thursday nights (after 5 p.m.) $10 for adults and $8 for ages 65 & over, ages 13 to 17), and college students (with ID). NOTE: admission to Carlos Villa at SFAI and SFAC is free to the public.

Access: The Asian Art Museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information regarding access: 415.581.3598; TDD: 415.861.2035.


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