Asian Art Museum reintroduces 15 ‘Masterworks’

Redesigned galleries offer taste of what’s to come when $100 million expansion is completed

The centerpiece of the Asian Art Museum’s $100 million development and expansion plan will be revealed in the spring, at a date to be announced, when construction is completed on major new facilities on the Hyde Street side.

But at an event for the media this week, chief executive officer and director Jay Xu said the museum’s “transformation project” is well on its way, pointing to additions and improvements that are part of the project headed by Thai American architect Kulapat Yantrasast of Los Angeles, who calls his work — which involves subtle changes blending new and old elements — “architectural acupuncture.”

Xu proudly exhibited refinished deep-stained walnut flooring (architect Gae Aulenti’s original design); new and improved (if occasionally harsh) lighting; and refurbished classrooms and galleries.

In an exhibit called “Masterworks,” refreshed second- and third floor-galleries —- with newly painted walls in culturally significant jewel tones — showcase 15 prominent artworks “reimagined with bold new designs and dynamic digital tools,” according a press release.

On the second floor are works from South Asia, South East Asia, West Asia and the Persian World, Himalayas and the Tibetan Buddhist World, Ancient China and Chinese Buddhism; on the third floor, reopened in November, are artifacts from Imperial and Later China, Korea and Japan.

Singling out a jade cup enjoyed by Mughal emperors, a Burmese Buddha throne and an ancient Chinese bronze rhinoceros, Xu also pointed to what he called a small but significant matter: the peeling of traditional labels that identify objects.

Described as “a staff-driven design solution from our crack prep team working with input from ADA guidelines and a curatorial eye to aesthetics to unify and resolve a perennial issue every museum faces,” the labels, now inserted in metal brackets, are covered with glare-free, plexiglass “to facilitate dynamic content update and quick rotations.”

While Xu claimed the new labels are are legible to everyone, to this observer, the 11-point font text wasn’t easily readable from a 4-5 foot distance.

Currently, the museum has 2,500 works on exhibit, drawn from its collection of more than 18,000 objects.

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