Archive for 'Programs'

Hell of a Party

Last night we opened Phantoms of Asia with our first ever public preview party. While the shochu shots were surely popular, the hit of the night as far as art was concerned was undeniably Takayuki Yamamoto’s What Kind of Hell Will We Go. The work  features pieces created by local elementary school students alongside Yamamoto’s video of their presentations; fortunately the film is subtitled, because the rocking party atmosphere drowned out the sound! There was a crowd in front of the installation all night, and for a while Yamamoto himself was in the thick of it, adding to the excitement. Check out the video for more on Yamamoto’s process in creating this work, plus some charming children making art.

If you didn’t make the party we’re sorry you missed a great night. But the art is here until September 2, and tomorrow (Saturday, May 19), admission is free thanks to Target.


Takayuki Yamamoto with elementary school students in front of the installation, What Kind of Hell Will We Go

Takayuki Yamamoto with elementary school students in front of the installation in North Court.

Phantoms of Asia: New Hell Project

Contemporary artist Takayuki Yamamoto got together with the Asian Art Museum and local art education non-profit Artseed to create the latest chapter of his ongoing artwork called What Kind of Hell Will We Go To.

Da Juan poses with his creation

Under the artist’s direction, and with help from staff and volunteers, children in the after-school program run by Artseed at Leola Havard Early Education School in the Bayview district of San Francisco devised and constructed their own “hells”.  These are places where they imagined miscreants of all types might end up.  The young denouncers were then filmed describing their creations; the transgressions, and the curious, often torturous, and sometimes hilarious, situations that awaited the guilty within.

Organizing and scheduling all the different players and components took super-human effort by the artist, staff, volunteers, and parents.  One initial challenge was in finding the perfect group of kids to partner with. After a lot of searching Artseed’s after-school program was recommended and we knew it’d be a great fit.

The week of the project itself was an eye-opening and invigorating spin-cycle of activity.  Takayuki’s calm confidence and child-like sense of playfulness and curiosity brought a sense of shared purpose and joy to the children and adults alike.  The results are funny and cute, bitter and grim, and altogether quite thought-provoking.  We’re all looking forward to seeing Takayuki Yamamoto’s (and the kids’) What Kind of Hell Will We Go To on display as part of the Phantoms of Asia exhibition beginning May 18. Yamamoto will also be participating in our teacher program Shh! We’re not Supposed to Talk About Religion and a panel discussion with other contemporary artists on May 12.  Hope to see you in new hell!

Date Night: A Romantic Liaison at the Asian

The Asian Art Museum: perfect for a date night.

Ready or not, Valentine’s Day is coming. Maybe you’re over it. That’s ok. Maybe you’re just tired of the Valentine’s same old. You know, roses, chocolates, dinner somewhere “romantic” where everyone else is trying to be “romantic” too. So we’d like to invite you to be our Valentine. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “Museums aren’t romantic. Museums are for Culture and Art and Learning.” Well, allow us to challenge your preconceptions with this self-guided tour for lovers.

Grand staircase1. When you come to the museum, you probably head straight for the escalator, right? A more romantic entrance is straight up the staircase. Many a bride and groom have made their way up these same stairs. Pause at the top and imagine you’re in Gone With the Wind.

2.   Walk into Samsung Hall and take a turn about the dance floor before heading out to the bridge on your right. Cross over to the Betty Bogart Contemplative Alcove. You can ponder love while in the presence of Izumi Masatoshi’s Basin, or just use the quiet corner to steal a kiss.

3. Facing the alcove, take a left and head out to the escalator. Go up to your right, and then enter the South Asian galleries. In the first gallery to your left as you round the corner is a linga, or phallic symbol. Put art history aside for a moment and allow yourselves a Valentine’s titter.

A prince and his consort watching fireworks India 18thC4. Wander on through the South Asia galleries until you reach a room with some paintings to your left. Imagine yourselves as a prince and his consort enjoying the fireworks, real or metaphorical.

5. Head back to the glass elevator and descend to the first floor. If you need a break, Cafe Asia is the perfect place for a shared lassi or a decadent dessert for two.

6. You’re lovers, so you don’t have to follow the rules. Head into gallery 3 (Osher Gallery) of the Maharaja exhibit. The exhibit flow has you turn left; defy the rules, turn right and you’re in the jazz age. Take in the Man Ray images of Yeshwant Rao Holkar II and Sanyogita Devi of Indore and imagine you’re an equally dashing young couple. Wander through the rest of the gallery if you like.

6. Cross over to gallery 2 (Hambrecht Gallery), opposite. Directly across from you are some paintings of intimate scenes, perfect for lovers.

7. Of course, we’re ending with a wedding. To your left are scenes of life at court, including a royal wedding, and one of the highlights of the exhibition—a stunning bridal outfit. Once you’re done contemplating your future together, walk through the rest of the gallery and out into the court.

If you really want to break the Valentine mold, we recommend giving an Asian Art Museum membership to your beloved as a gift and then taking this tour during our evening Matcha “sensuality” event on February 16. Entry is $10, but for members it’s free and you can skip the line, leaving more time for Ayurvedic head massages and alluring teas.

Afterward, stroll arm-in-arm to nearby Hayes Valley for dinner at Bar Jules, a small cafe awash in warm colors and candlelight, dishing out excellent Californian food in a casual comfy atmosphere. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous hop in a cab and head to Russian Hill, just five minutes away, where cable cars and lights strewn through trees make for that extra ambiance oomph. Dine at Frascati, a hidden gem bistro known for its pitch perfect service and quality Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

We’re open every Thursday night through October, but if you want to catch the risqué paintings in Maharaja you’ll have to be quick—it closes April 8.

Got any other special places in the museum? Share them in the comments.

New Year Food

With humans, it always comes back to food. We love our feast days, and most of our celebrations have some kind of special food associated with them.

New Year is no exception. I celebrated new year recently with a friend for whom sour cream and cheddar chips are an integral part of the evening. He also cooked us a Chinese roast duck; much closer to my ideal celebration.

We spoke to a couple of Bay Area experts about two specialties that are close to us at the museum: Japanese mochi and Buddha hands.

Last weekend, we celebrated the new year here at the museum with mochitsuki (mochi pounding). Local Japanese teacher Yoko Hara writes:

I am from Tokyo, but I’ve never seen mochitsuki there. We bought freshly made big square mochi (Tokyo style) and my father used to cut it into small rectangular pieces. So mochitsuki by Kagamikai was a surprise and delight.
We used to live pretty close to the old site of Asian Art Museum so when my children were still young, we used to enjoy the mochitsuki with Taiko drumming every year. Being a Japanese Teacher, I now spread the word about this lovely event to all my students and friends.

Mochi pounding at the Asian Art Museum, Kagamikai
Kagamikai guide visitors in making mochi to celebrate the new year.

Buddha’s hand has become a common sight at Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays right behind the museum. Former curator Terese Bartholomew, now a board member of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, shares her knowledge of this funny-looking cousin of the lemon:

One interesting citrus that has appeared in the farmers’ markets in recent years is the Buddha’s hand citron (Citrus medica ‘Sarcodactylis’). This yellow citron with wavy tentacles takes its common name from the shape of its fruit, which resembles the idealized fingers of the Buddha. This fragrant fruit is used as an altar offering during Chinese New Year. The fruit runs completely to rind, and is not edible unless preserved with salt or sugar. Sliced into pieces, the fruit can be prepared the same way as candied citron; dipped in chocolate, these make a most delicious snack. The Buddha’s hand citron is beloved by the Chinese because its name, foshou, puns with blessings and longevity.

Buddha's hand citron by ancient history on Flickr.
Buddha’s hand, by ancient history on Flickr.

Tell us what’s on your Lunar New Year table – or share your recipes for Buddha’s hands.

The Year of the Dragons

One of the cool things about working at the Asian Art Museum is that I get to meet artists from all over the world who are creating some fascinating works, big and small.

A few days ago, I received a holiday card from an AsiaAlive alumnus, Japanese bamboo artist Tanaka Kyokusho. He also sent me a photo of his latest work, a fifty-foot-long dragon made entirely from bamboo.

Tanaka's bamboo dragon display in Tokyo.

Another Japanese artist, Paris-based artist Natsusaka Shinichiro, recently sent us the new year’s netsuke he created specially for the museum. This is his third year designing netsukes for our education programs; he previously created netsukes for the year of the tiger and the year of the rabbit.

Natsusaka's dragon netsuke is about an inch tall.


Unlike Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities, Japanese people celebrate the new year on January 1. This change from the lunar calendar was made during the Meiji Restoration Period, in 1873. Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese new year starts on January 23, 2012 (it changes every year according to the lunar calendar), so you will have three extra weeks to make new year’s resolutions.

Next Saturday, December 31, museum visitors can ring the new year in with our annual Japanese bell ringing ceremony, make their own netsukes at our family art activity, and welcome the Year of the Dragon in style.

I Wayan Wija



Although you might guess that things around the Museum are winding down–we’ve less than a month of the Bali exhibition left–think again.

The rare opportunity to see noted puppet master I Wayan Wija brings an added benefit: Wija has brought a number of his puppets and miniatures, several of which will be available in the Museum Store through his Asia Alive residency, which runs until August 28th.

Current favorites include the frogs and lion (with wagging tail), and quite a few of the miniatures, which are essentially small, unmounted paintings done in the style of the wayang (puppets).

Ratih, the Balinese goddess of romantic love and lust...and everlasting pleasure

Ratih, the Balinese goddess of romantic love, lust, & everlasting pleasure

Unicorns: why not?
Beauty & self-esteem

And then there’s my personal favorite:

Because komodos in love are the best kind

If you can’t make one of the performances or talks, stop by the Museum Store to see the work of one of the world’s greatest living masters.

It may be the year of the rabbit…

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Bali Temple Explorer

Bali Temple Explorer is now live, both on our website and in the galleries. This remarkable interactive film by Martin Percy, produced by unit9, lets you explore a complex of three small temples located near the village of Bedulu in Bali. You can travel through the site by clicking on the video images, and a menu at the bottom of the screen offers a map and commentary. The museum is grateful to Martin Percy and unit9 for making this interactive experience available as a complement to our Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance exhibition. Let us know what you think!

UPDATE: Bali Temple Explorer has won the 2011 Webby award in the Travel and Adventure category. Congratulations to all!



In order to read a Chinese newspaper, around 4,000 characters must be committed to memory.  According to one of my favorite professors who spent time in China during the Open Door policy of the late 70s: “Give yourself about a dozen years to get a good grasp of it.”

Chinese, for anyone who has studied it, is a highly complicated language that requires a reader to quickly glean from the root (or radical) some piece of meaning.  Consider that every foreign concept that comes into China requires a new word.  The word for computer, then, is not computer, but closer to “electric brain.”  Try this link for a clearer breakdown of the process.

If this seems like a strangely digressive introduction of artist Xu Bing, who will be speaking at the Museum this Friday, maybe you don’t know Xu’s work.

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Wisdoms of the East & West: A meditation on the murals of Jean Charlot and Affandi


Wisdoms of the East and West is an animated video created in 2010 by artist Ben Wood and puppeteer Michael Schuster to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the East-West Center in Honolulu Hawaii. The video is based on the flagship Charlot and Affandi murals in Imin Center-Jefferson Hall at the East West Center.

In keeping with the East-West Center’s mandate to promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the Pacific region, the video shows Semar, the Javanese shadow puppet on a voyage from East to West. The video’s soundtrack is a fusion of Indonesian and western music and was performed by musicians Annie Reynolds and Made Widana.

Ben Wood is a British-born visual artist. A recipient of the California Governors Award for Historic Preservation, his work has been shown Internationally, at the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the London Jewish Museum, and the East West Center in Hololulu. Since 2004 he has carried out over 5 large scale video projections onto Coit Tower in San Francisco.