Asian Art Museum deals with dark shadow of Avery Brundage

Entry way bust of racist benefactor has been covered

Born into China’s deadly Cultural Revolution, Jay Xu today is leading a difficult and overdue cancel culture campaign at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

As director of the museum, Xu has long been concerned about the association of his multi-ethnic institution with Avery Brundage, who donated his 8,000-object collection of Asian art to San Francisco in 1959 to help create the museum, but was known as a Nazi sympathizer while he served on the International Olympic Committee.

“Brundage gave the art, but the people of San Francisco built it a home,” says Xu, “The collection now exceeds the cultural interests of Brundage (and his times) and reflects the cultural diversity of Asia and the Bay Area.”

As the first action in the campaign, Brundage’s bust at the entrance to the museum has been covered up, with a note of explanation next to it. Xu says plans to remove it were postponed by the pandemic. “The urgency of current events and the calls for confronting racist legacies show that removing the bust was always going to be the right decision,” Xu says.

The note reads, in part: “We publicly condemn Brundage for the harms he inflicted via the Olympic platform. His beliefs and actions contradict the Asian Art Museum’s mission to inspire new ways of thinking by connecting diverse communities to historic and contemporary Asian art and culture. Therefore, the sculpture does not belong in this entryway.”

Before he became president of the International Olympic Committee in 1952 for a 20-year stint in the position, Brundage played an important role in overcoming national and international opposition to awarding the 1936 Olympics to Nazi Germany.

Near the other end of his reign, Brundage was instrumental for punishing Black running champions John Carlos and Tommie Smith after they raised their fists on the medals platform at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in support of Black power.

In addition to having a racist and anti-Semitic reputation, Brundage also stood against women’s participation in Olympic events, saying that it’s “not truly feminine, like putting a shot” or long-distance running. He continued in the tradition of his predecessor Baron Pierre de Coubertin,who declared that “an Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper.”

A recording of a museum-presented, streamed public discussion called “Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Gender Bias in the Olympics: The Impact and Legacy of Avery Brundage,” with Xu, sports sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards and political science professor Jules Boykoff can be seen online at https://youtu.be/rBc6z_RSli8.

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