The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
is a massive and impressive edifice (it was previously a branch of the San Francisco Public Library, but has since been renovated for its new purpose) housing a fascinating institution. Just north of Market Street and a part of the Civic Center, it is accessible, and popular (sometimes a bit too much so). But admission is free on the first Sunday
of each month, and for the lover of art and/or Asian cultures, there are few better exercises for a Sunday morning. The website of the institution relates that it was founded in the 60s as the "Center for Asian Art and Culture" with a contribution of funding and artwork from Chicago industrialist Avery Brundage. The collection was originally situated in Golden Gate Park
, and relocated to it's current habitat beginning in 1994 and coming to fruition with a grand opening there on March 20, 2003. Such website may be found at www.asianart.org
The building is set up with gallery after gallery after gallery, its thousands of pieces covering the whole scope of Asian geographical and historical culture. The first floor is mostly occupied by special exhibitions which change every few months, with the upper two floors dedicated to halls especially devoted to particular national cultures -- Japan
, and so on. One hall is devoted to cross-cultural artwork relating to historical stages of the artwork of Buddhism
. There is some sense that Japanese and Chinese artwork dominate, having by far the largest amount of gallery space, with Southeast Asia being somewhat lumped together in a space which covers areas as diverse as Cambodia
and the Philippines
; if the comparison were gallery footage versus national population of the area represented, Japan would come far and away ahead of the rest of countries represented, (unless Tibet
is counted as a country). Frequent rotation of pieces insures that there is always something new to discover, making this a museum most fully experienced with multiple visits over time.
Interestingly, the primary medium presented is sculpture
, traditional paintings being comparatively rare. The Indian and Southeast Asian collections feature a few surprisingly sexual sculptures, presented with a certain casual live-and-let-live-ness. Hidden within the contours of the former library is a current library, one dedicated to Asian Art History, being one of the more formidable paper collection places of such information. To enter this room, an appointment is necessary, but the library alone is worth the price of admission to the Asian art lover.