A little culture to expand the horizons.
It should come as no surprise to visitors of San Francisco, home of the biggest Chinatown in North America, that this city boasts an amazing museum dedicated to showcasing Asian art & culture. Do you know what Asian means? To the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco it is defined as the region from Turkey to India and China to the Philippines. In today’s numbers that is over 1/3 of the world’s population. The Museum is home to works of art that span over 6000 years of history including some present day masterpieces. I think any visit to San Francisco should include a trip to one of their cultural institutions and for my 30 Days In SF adventures I had to choose the Asian Art Museum in honour of the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year festivities which are happening in mid-February.
You can’t miss the Asian Art Museum. It is located in the heart of the Civic Centre of San Francisco directly across from City Hall at 200 Larkin Street. An imposing building with three floors containing the over 2000 permanent items on display plus the visiting collections that rotate throughout the year. During my visit to the museum the feature exhibition is the Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It takes up all the public gallery spaces on the first floor and is quite magnificent.
Walking through the Roads of Arabia exhibit is quite awe inspiring. Pieces there are well over 2000 years old and include stone tablets with ancient writing, statues that tower over me and even a Gold Funeral Mask that an obviously rich and important man wore to help his passing to the next stage.
There are galleries filled with these artifacts, but there are also smaller interactive displays such as the Discovering Incense that explains the value and importance of incense to the Arabian world and even allows you to discover your own favourite incense. Mine was definitely Frankincense.
Moving up to the second and third floors I am now in the part of the museum that houses the permanent collections. Some of these include modern masterpieces and are not limited to paintings, sculptures and bronzes. One of the first pieces I saw was a Jacket and Hat that had a pair of matching boots. Modern pottery also was on display, my favourite piece was from Japan and it was called Sky Space, a lovely porcelain with a pale blue glaze.
To describe the experiences throughout the second and third floors would require a much better writer than me but I’ll do my best to show some of the exhibits that wowed me. For example there was a display of miniatures that simply amazed me. Look at the tiny shell and the delicate and intricate carving that is inside it. How the artist was able to do that I do not know.
There were beautiful examples of 10th to 14th century Korean stoneware and from Indonesia the Shadow Puppet Theatre. These intricate puppets represent not only artistry in the creation but one puppeteer manipulated them and “spoke” through them to carry fables and stories from one generation to another.
The Buddhist religion was well represented especially from the Himalayas and Tibet with their own gallery. Sculptures and statues in painted wood from 8th to 12th century Japan are also featured offering a different view of Buddhist Deities.
India is also represented in a big way with various statues and fragments of stone sculptures. The level of artistry and complicated relief just blows me away. With our reliance on technology would we even be capable of equalling this artists vision today?
Not to be outdone by the past, modern pieces like TEAter Totter from Japanese artist Jung Ran Bae highlight the tension between the past and the present. Or what about another Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida with his painting titled Prisoner? Can you feel the tension between Japan’s past and its present state?
I think what struck me the most as I made my way through the exhibition is how diverse and unique each and every culture within the umbrella term of “Asia” is. Every country within Asia has its own unique history and cultural expression. Even a common binding religion like Buddhism has different interpretations and manifestations depending on the region you come from. I highly recommend an afternoon adventure exploring the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. It’ll expand your awareness of what it means to be “Asian” and wow you at the skill our ancestors possessed. I wonder which is the more advanced civilization, the one we are living in now or the ones represented throughout the museum?
30 Days In SF Over the course of 30 posts I’m exploring Where to Stay, Where to Eat and Drink and What to Do in San Francisco and the Bay area. I won’t get to everything awesome but I welcome your suggestions and if I don’t get to it on this visit there is always the next time!