Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco –
Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture[1]
Asian Art Museum (San Francisco) Logo.png
Terracotta Warriors Exhibition San Francisco 2013.jpg
Asian Art Museum (San Francisco) is located in San Francisco County
Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)
Location within San Francisco County
Coordinates37°46′49″N 122°25′00″W / 37.780276°N 122.416577°W / 37.780276; -122.416577Coordinates: 37°46′49″N 122°25′00″W / 37.780276°N 122.416577°W / 37.780276; -122.416577
TypeAsian art
ArchitectBuilding (1917): George Kelham
Museum interior (2003): Gae Aulenti
Area185,000-square-foot (17,200 m2)

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture[1] is a museum in San Francisco, California that specializes in Asian art. It was founded by Olympian Avery Brundage in the 1960s and has more than 18,000 works of art in its permanent collection, some as much as 6,000 years old.[2] Its logo is an upside down letter A, which also looks like a letter V with a line through it.


The museum origin stems from a donation to the city of San Francisco by Chicago millionaire Avery Brundage, who was a major collector of Asian art. The Society for Asian Art, incorporated in 1958, was the group that formed to gain Brundage's collection. The museum opened in 1966 as a wing of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. Brundage continued to make donations to the museum, including the bequest of all his remaining personal collection of Asian art on his death in 1975. In total, Brundage donated more than 7,700 Asian art objects to San Francisco.[citation needed]

Despite Brundage's professed goal of creating a “bridge of understanding” between the U.S. and Asia, a deeper insight into his actions revealed that he held racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic beliefs that entirely contradicted the mission and values of the museum. In 2020, the museum removed a statue of Brundage from its lobby where it had stood for five decades, and launched a thorough re-examination of his controversial legacy.[3][4] Museum director Jay Xu wrote that Brundage “espoused racist and anti-Semitic views.”[4]

The museum was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation for their contributions to promotion of cultural exchange through art between Japan and the United States on December 1, 2020.[5][6]

Jay Xu is the museum's director.[7][8]


Until 2003, the museum shared a space with the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. As the museum's collection grew, the facilities in Golden Gate Park were no longer sufficient to display or even house the collection. In 1987 Mayor Dianne Feinstein proposed a plan to revitalize Civic Center that included relocating the museum to the Main Library. In 1995, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee made a $15 million donation to launch the funding campaign for a new building for the museum.[9]

During its last year in the park, it was closed for the purpose of moving to its new location. It reopened on March 20, 2003, in the former San Francisco city library building opposite of the San Francisco Civic Center, which was renovated for the purpose, under the direction of Italian architect Gae Aulenti. Lord Cultural Resources, a cultural professional practice, was also commissioned to undertake a three-part sequence of planning studies for the relocation of the museum.[citation needed]

The old Main library was a Beaux Arts-style building designed by George Kelham in 1917. The new $160.5 million project, designed by Gae Aulenti,[10] introduced an indoor sky-lit court to provide a dramatic central core to the museum. Removing some interior walls, Aulenti created a sense of openness to facilitate visitor movement and the display of the artwork. The new 185,000-square-foot (17,200 m2) museum increased the exhibition space by approximately 75 percent compared to the former Golden Gate Park location.

The renovation also brought a seismic upgrade scheme to the building involving base isolation. Bearings were placed over the foundation system below the building's current slab on grade with a new basement constructed above the bearings in the process. Furthermore, the superstructure was stiffened through the addition of concrete shear walls, allowing for a rigid lateral load path for all sections of the building.[11]

In October 2011, the museum launched a new identity. Designed by the branding agency Wolff Olins, the logo is an upside down A, representing the idea of approaching Asian art from a new perspective.[12]


In March 2016, the museum announced that it would build an additional new pavilion to its San Francisco Civic Center Building.[13] The new pavilion will sit atop an existing, lower-level wing on the museum's Hyde Street side; and it will add about 9,000 square feet of new space to the museum's first floor.[14] The expansion is expected to open by September 2019.[15] In January 2019, Abby Chen was appointed as the Head of Contemporary Art.[16]


The collection has approximately 18,000 works of art and artifacts from all major Asian countries and traditions, some of which are as much as 6,000 years old. Galleries are devoted to the arts of South Asia, Iran and Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, China, Korea and Japan. There are more than 2,000 works on display in the museum galleries.[17]

The museum has become a focus for special and traveling exhibitions, including: the first major Chinese exhibition to travel outside China since the end of World War II (in 1975), an archaeological exhibition which attracted 800,000 visitors over an eight-week period, and an exhibition on wisdom and compassion opened by the Dalai Lama in 1991.


Tea House[edit]

A Japanese tea house is displayed on the second exhibition floor of the museum. This teahouse was built in Kyoto, disassembled, shipped to San Francisco and reconstructed in the museum by Japanese carpenters.[20] The name of the tea house can be seen on a wooden plaque "In the Mist" located next to the Tea House on the second floor of the museum, The calligraphy on this wooden plaque is based on the calligraphy by Yamada Sobin and commissioned by Yoshiko Kakudo, the museum's first curator of Japanese art. The Tea House was designed by architect Osamu Sato as a functioning teahouse, as well as a display case. It is a three and three-quarters (sanjo daime) mat room. It is complete with an alcove for the display of a scroll and flowers, an electric-powered sunken hearth used in winter for the hot water kettle, and a functioning preparation area (mizuya) with fresh running water and drain.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About" Asian Art Museum website. Quote: "Strategically located on the Pacific Rim and serving one of the most diverse communities in the United States, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture is uniquely positioned to lead a diverse, global audience in discovering the distinctive materials, aesthetics and intellectual achievements of Asian art and cultures, and to serve as a bridge of understanding between Asia and the United States and between the diverse cultures of Asia." (emphasis added)
  2. ^ "Asian Art Museum | Collection". Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  3. ^ "About the Asian Art Museum | Asian Art Museum". About. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Asian Art Museum Contends with Racist Legacy of Patron Avery Brundage".
  5. ^ Foreign Minister’s Commendations for FY 2020 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
  6. ^ Foreign Minister’s Commendations for FY 2020 (Groups) | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
  7. ^ Cheng, Scarlet (May 23, 2010). "ART; The view from an East-West angle; Asian Art Museum's Shanghai-born Jay Xu has visions of a grander landscape". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "At This Museum, Education Staff Prove More Vital Than Ever During Pandemic". Hyperallergic. May 12, 2020. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  9. ^ "CHONG-MOON LEE / From the depths of longing for a hamburger he couldn't afford and contemplating suicide, this entrepreneur rose to such success he was able to give $15 million to S.F.'s Asian Art Museum". San Francisco Chronicle. November 5, 1995.
  10. ^ Hall, Christopher (March 16, 2003). "In San Francisco, A New Home For Asian Art". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "San Francisco Asian Art Museum – How do you protect an irreplacable San Francisco landmark and the priceless art it houses?". June 24, 2020.
  12. ^ "A Bold New Look For SF Art Museum, In Jittery Economic Times". September 30, 2011.
  13. ^ "Asian Art Museum announces expansion". March 1, 2016.
  14. ^ "Once-struggling Asian Art Museum set for major 'transformation'".
  15. ^ Edelson, Zachary (September 26, 2017). "San Francisco's Asian Art Museum Expansion Revealed – Metropolis". Metropolis. Retrieved October 14, 2017.
  16. ^ "Curator Abby Chen to Head Asian Art Museum's Contemporary Art Department". KQED. December 13, 2018. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  17. ^ "Asian Art Museum - In the Galleries". Collections. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  18. ^ "Asian Art Museum Online Collection". Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  19. ^ "Asian Art Museum Online Collection". Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  20. ^ "Japanese teahouse, tea masters to be part of new Asian Art Museum". December 15, 2002.
  21. ^ "Teahouse at the Asian Art Museum". Archived from the original on August 9, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2016.

External links[edit]