The new exhibition in the new wing of the Asian Art Museum is billed as an “immersive digital experience.” But visitors might call it a magical wonderland.
You’ll find yourself happily lost in its darkened rooms filled with fluttering butterflies, flying crows, luminescent fish or expanses of colorful flowers that change with the season and smell as sweet as jasmine and gardenias.
“Floral scent” is how teamLab’s Michaela Kane, a member of the Tokyo-based collective that created the show, described it at a recent sneak peek of the exhibition.
You might feel myriad sensations upon entering “teamLab: Continuity.” At moments, it’s spa-like and meditative; other times, it’s as though you’re swept up on a rollercoaster or in the middle of some rain showers.
None of these effects — executed in impeccable fashion of the kind displayed by Disney and Pixar — come simply. The ever-moving, ever-changing scenes in “Continuity” are the result of artists, calligraphers, programmers, engineers, animators and architects, who, according to a press release, “seek to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology and the natural world.”
The collective has been successful. Its “teamLab: Borderless” in Tokyo, which had 2.3 million guests in its first year, received a Guinness World Record award for the most visited museum dedicated to a single group or artist.
In “Continuity,” which opens to the general public on July 23, many of the installations are interactive. In the above-mentioned “Forest of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn,” if you slowly press and move your hand over the wall panel, as if you’re cleaning it, the flowers will shed their petals and die.
An installation called “Born From the Darkness a Loving, and Beautiful World” includes elements of nearby crow- and fish-themed works along with floating Japanese characters which, upon touch, burst into the images they describe. You can set off blustery snow, a rainbow and even a lightning crash with thunder sound effects.
“Every time you come, it’s a completely different space,” said Kane, mentioning that the exhibit’s sections, while separate, are “artworks that are stitched together.”
In a separate gallery at the front of the show is “Sketch Ocean,” a station where visitors of all ages can play. Outlines and crayons are provided for budding artists to color pictures of sea creatures, which are photographed, scanned and instantly sent into the masses of fish swimming along the gallery walls.
“Kids are amazed by how quickly they can see their art become part of the exhibition,” said Alisa Wong, a museum coordinator staffing the installation. She added that some of the locally-created pictures of tuna swim out of San Francisco and into other “Sketch Ocean” setups across the world.
I was thrilled to witness the pictures migrate within the space of the Asian Art Museum, as well. Minutes after I made it, I spotted “my” patchwork turtle floating by in a different section of the show inside the new 8,500-square-foot Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion. The pavilion is part of a $103 million, multi-year expansion and renovation project that also includes a 7,500-square-foot roof terrace slated for completion in the fall.
The expansion project is headed by Thai-American designer-architect Kulapat Yantrasast, of the Los Angeles firm wHY, who calls his work “architectural acupuncture,” said Zac Rose, the museum’s associate director of communications. Among wHY’s previous environmentally attuned buildings are an East Palo Alto youth art center and the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan. The firm also developed the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky. and has worked on galleries at the Harvard Art Museums and the Art Institute of Chicago.
The new pavilion, with windows onto Hyde Street, gives the museum more focus and exposure, said Rose, who added, “We now have art on all sides.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays-Sundays, 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; closed Tuesdays-Wednesdays; through February 2022
Admission: $13 to $20; free for essential workers, SFUSD students, children 12 and under and active duty military; advance reservations required
Contact: (415) 581-3500, asianart.org