Top row: Wilbur Grand Staircase, Scenes from the Tale of Genji. Bottom: TBA, Pair of wayang golek puppets , Covered vessel in the shape of ancient bronze dui
By Katie Chin
Adorned with graceful architecture and a collection of diverse, alluring artworks, the Asian Art Museum (https://asianart.org/) located in San Francisco features astonishing collections of Asian art and presents a variety of cultural celebrations and educational programs to the public.
In 1966, the museum was brought to life by a group of civic activists in San Francisco who wished to develop a collection of artworks to represent the cultural heritage of the significant Asian American population in the local community.
Avery Brundage, a Chicago businessman who had been collecting Asian art for decades, decided to donate his collection to San Francisco following years of negotiations on the condition that the city preserve the art and create a building to house it. Originally, the collection resided in a wing of the de Young Museum, but following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Asian Art Museum found its new home by Civic Center in 2003.
The San Francisco Bay Area hosts a significant population of Asian Americans, with Asians making up 33.7% of the San Francisco County population in 2020. The Asian Art Museum offers a way for people of Asian heritage to connect to their culture through works of art. Living a sea away from their homeland, Asian American students are often not taught or exposed to Asian history and culture at school. For those who are not of Asian descent, the museum teaches them about a culture they may not know very well, and can bridge the gap between different ethnicities living in America.
Left to right: TBA, Japanese footed dish, Persian teapot
The Asian Art Museum presents a platform for artists of the Asian diaspora as well as local Asian American artists to showcase their work. The museum boasts a diverse collection of art, ranging from historical pieces from different regions in Asia to contemporary pieces by local Bay Area artists. Contemporary art sheds light on artists who are a significant part of Asian culture today. Asian art does not necessarily have to be made in the past in Asia, and rather, many cultural artworks are made by today’s local Asian American artists.
“I love that quality of just being surprised and constantly being exposed to something new,” Deborah Clearwaters, Director of Education and Interpretation, said. “I really enjoy the increased focus on contemporary artists who are reacting to what’s happening today.”
“I love that quality of just being surprised and constantly being exposed to something new. I really enjoy the increased focus on contemporary artists who are reacting to what’s happening today.”Deborah Clearwaters, Director of Education and Interpretation
Jenifer Wofford, a San Francisco artist and educator, created a mural called Pattern Recognition that is featured on the outside of the museum. Wofford is known for including traditional Asian graphics and interspersing patterns from contemporary Asian artists. This relationship between traditional and contemporary art accentuates the connection felt by artists and viewers to their homeland and heritage.
The museum hosts the Art Speak teen internship, a paid internship for public high school students who are living and attending school in the Bay Area. Established in 2007, Art Speak is a way to increase teen involvement with the museum.
“Art Speak interns learn about the collection and the special exhibitions and meet with curators and staff to learn about what’s happening at the museum and the new artwork that’s on view,” Triana Patel, Manager of Youth and Family Public Programs, said.
During the pandemic, Art Speak interns have used Instagram (@artspeakinterns) as a channel to continue creating imaginative art and connect with the local community. Through art, they explore a variety of relevant topics, including microaggressions, the body positivity and neutrality movements and mental health.
“We’re constantly trying to do better in terms of connecting with our community,” Margaret Yee, Manager of School and Teacher Programs, said.
Despite the Bay Area’s large Asian community, the Asian Art Museum is the only museum in the area that is dedicated to Asian art and culture. Much of the staff at the Asian Art Museum is of Asian descent and therefore, are very familiar with the culture they specialize in. The museum boasts an abundance of native foreign language fluency amongst their staff, as many curators and scholars speak multiple languages.
The museum boasts an abundance of native foreign language fluency amongst their staff
“We’re one of the few museums that have a director who’s Asian American,” Clearwaters said. “When you think about other museums around the country, unless they’re culturally specific, they’re mostly led by white men and a few white women.”
The Asian Art Museum is a staple of the Bay Area’s Asian community and continues to preserve Asian art and culture. Through the museum’s exhibits and programs, young Asian Americans are offered the opportunity to connect with their heritage and homeland.