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Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

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Reopened in March 2003, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the largest museums devoted to Asian art in the western world. Its collection boasts more than 17,000 artworks, including many religious sculptures and ritual objects.


The story of the Asian Art Museum begins in 1959, when a Chicago industrialist named Avery Brundage donated part of his collection of Asian art to San Francisco on the condition a museum be created to display it. In 1960, San Francisco voters passsed a $2.7 million bond measure to build the museum.

On June 10, 1966, the Asian Art Museum opened to the public. This first museum was housed in a new wing of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. At the dedication, Brundage remarked, "In presenting this collection to San Francisco my hope is that, together with the facilities of the region's great universities, it will help San Francisco and the Bay Area become one of the world's greatest centers of Oriental culture."

Brundage continued building his collection, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to acquire important works of Asian art. In 1969, he made another challenge to the city of San Francisco: if it created a governing administration for the collection and raised $3 million for acquisitions and education, he would donate his most recent collection to the museum.

These conditions were soon fufilled. In addition to the establishment of the independent Asian Art Commission that still oversees the museum, the museum received a staff of experts on regional Asian art, its own library, and a conservation and photography budget.

Avery Brundage died in 1975, bequeathing his entire remaining collection to the Asian Art Museum. He certainly fulfilled the hope he expressed in 1966 - San Francisco is one of the world's greatest centers of Oriental art and culture. In total, he donated over 7,700 Asian art objects to the city. Other acquisitions and donations expanded to the collection to its current size of 17,000 artworks, making San Francisco's Asian Art Museum the largest of its kind in the United States.

It wasn't long before the museum began to outgrow its original building. In 1994, San Francisco voters approved a bond measure to renovate the former city library in the Civic Center for use by the Asian Art Museum. The project was funded in large part by a gift of $15 million from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee, a member of the Asian Art Commission.

The Civic Center library was already beautiful space, designed in Beaux-Arts style. To repurpose the interior for museum use while retaining its unique character, San Francisco turned to Italian architect Gae Aulenti. A specialist in such adaptations, her other projects include the famous Musée d'Orsay in Paris (created within a train station built in 1900); the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (in an 18th-century palace); and the National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona (in the National Palace built in 1929). Aulenti worked with several other architects to implement her design for the Civic Center.

The old museum in Golden Gate Park remained open until October 7, 2001, when the long moving project began. The Asian Art Museum reopened at its presents Civic Center location on March 20, 2003.

What to See

The vast collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco consists of over 17,000 artworks that span 6,000 years of Asian history. Many of the artifacts are rare and unique. The most celebrated artifact in the collection is a gilded bronze Chinese Buddha statue dated 338 AD - it is the oldest known Chinese Buddha in the world.

The museum's permanent exhibition rotates through this collection, displaying around 2,500 objects at a time. Occupying the second and third floors, the exhibition is organized into seven geographical areas, providing a visual introduction to Asian culture around the world:

Quick Facts on Asian Art Museum

Site Information
Names:Asian Art Museum; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
City:San Francisco
Dates:1966; 2003
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:San Francisco, California, USA
Coordinates:37.780255° N, 122.416116° W  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Asian Art Museum

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  1. History and Collection - Asian Art Museum official website
  2. Asian Art Museum - Frommer's San Francisco

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Article Info

Title:Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:
Link code:<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/usa/san-francisco-asian-art-museum/france/paris">Asian Art Museum, San Francisco</a>