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San Francisco's Asian Art Museum Leaps Into the Future

By Carolyne Zinko | April 16, 2020 | Lifestyle

The Asian Art Museum’s grand expansion allows for new activities, outdoor spaces and exhibitions on a scale not possible before.

JerryYangandAkikoYamazakiinWilburGalleryAYJYPavilionLeadershipDonorCelebrationFeb22020ArthurKobinforDrewAltizerPhotographyCourtesyofAsianArtMuseum-0001.jpgKey donors Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki

The name of the game in technology is moving forward, and fast. A fervor for reinvention, if not breakneck speed, is also at work at the Asian Art Museum ( Originally set to be unveiled in May, the results of an ambitious five-year plan hatched by the museum's board, whose members include tech founders, venture capitalists and engineers, will now debut as soon as late summer—the addition of 28,000 square feet of new space, the renovation of an existing 63,000 square feet of space, and expanded programming and interpretive approaches in its galleries.

Board chair Akiko Yamazaki, a Stanford-trained engineer, led the $103 million, privately funded capital campaign, and with her husband, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, will see the opening of an 8,500-square-foot pavilion named in their honor. The expansion plan was launched in 2009, Yamazaki says, “when the financial crisis made us face an existential question: Do we stay the course as a nice regional midsize museum, or do we grab this challenge by the horns and leapfrog into a world-class museum of the 21st century?” Geopolitics figured in too. “As American life has become so deeply interwoven with Asia, the need to understand Asia’s history, values and its culture today is more essential than ever,” Yamazaki says. “The board leaders and our director, Jay Xu, felt that this was the moment for the museum to become a bigger platform to engage with creative communities and participate in critical conversations.”

Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture Studio played a key role in project leadership as well. Visitors will also see a new 7,500-square-foot East West Bank art terrace with a luminous sculpture by Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei; a retooled Hambrecht and Lee galleries; a Shriram Experiential Learning Center; a Koret Education Center; and a Masterpiece Experience that showcases masterpieces in the museum’s 31 galleries. Some $38 million went to the expansion, while $65 million went to programming and the museum’s endowment.

The opening will feature a pavilion exhibit by teamLab, an international art collective based in Japan, whose immersive and interactive art harnesses digital technology to surround viewers with swirls of butterflies and flowers, birds in flight, crashing waves and more. Says Yamazaki, “I think new visitors who come in for the delight of an experience like teamLab will come away thinking, ‘Wow, this museum has so much going on—I have to come back soon.’”

Ed. note: While the city shelters in place, you can still explore the museum's treasures—and keep your own imagination flowing—by checking out its digital resources here: #MuseumFromHome

Overviewofremodelwithadditions180911wHYPavilionExteriordayview-0001.jpgAn architect’s rendering of the Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion and the new rooftop terrace

TheWayoftheSeaLostImmersedandRebornColorsofLife03-0001.jpg A view of teamLab’s “The Way of the Sea, Lost, Immersed and Reborn.” This and all teamLab images below are from a previous exhibition elsewhere.

MainCrowsareChasedandtheChasingCrowsareDestinedtobeChasedaswellFlyingBeyondBorders01-0001.jpg teamLab’s “Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Flying Beyond Borders”

CrowsareChasedandtheChasingCrowsareDestinedtobeChasedaswellTranscendingSpacemain-0001.jpgA view of teamLab’s “Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space”


teamLab’s “Flower Forest"

Photography by: Portrait by Arthur Kobin for Drew Altizer; Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion rendering © Asian Art Museum and wHy architecture; artwork photos courtesy of teamLab images