Spend a day at the Asian Art Museum
Thursdays until 9pm
Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving & Christmas Day
Website:Asian Art Museum
BART Station:Civic Center/UN Plaza (SF)
Walk Time:4 minutes
Looking to enrich your knowledge of Asian art and culture? San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of Asian art in the world, is located in San Francisco’s bustling Civic Center Plaza and is only a two-block walk from BART’s Civic Center station.
Touring this easy-to-navigate museum is a great reminder that Asia, the largest and most populated continent in the world, made significant contributions to the development of many modern-day art forms, textiles and tools. The museum’s collection spans 6,000 years and displays over 18,000 objects and artifacts from countries like China, Japan, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Thailand. It’s a good idea to visit the museum’s website for a refresher on the continent’s geography and history, and it has a wealth of information about its collection, including the museum’s most significant pieces.
The museum was established in 1966, thanks to the support and donations of Chicago industrialist Avery Brundage, and occupied a wing of the M. H. deYoung Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. In 2003 the museum took over the former San Francisco Public Library after significant public and private funding was secured. It’s a fitting and accessible location for this vibrant collection of art and history that connects to so many Bay Area residents.
The museum’s first floor offerings include an Asian-themed cafe, a gift shop and temporary and special exhibit galleries. Artifacts and antiquities from China, Korea and Japan are on the second floor. The third floor holds collections from South Asia; the Persian world and West Asia; Southeast Asia; the Himalayas and the Tibetan Buddhist world; and more China collections including Jade and pre-AD art.
Religious artifacts are greatly represented here and it’s fascinating to compare Buddhist and Hindu representations throughout history and regions. Casting materials, techniques and artistic interpretations all vary depending on the country and time period.
It’s also interesting to learn about Korean art and explore pieces that the museum acquired over the last 25 years. In fact, it’s the only museum in the country with a dedicated department and curator.
There’s a great selection of hanging scrolls and screens from China and Japan dating back to the 16th century. Stories range from landscape depictions like Lan Ying’s Whirling Snow on the Riverbank, 1639, to complex warrior scenes like the Battle at Uji Bridge (Tale of the Heike), 1615-1700. To contrast the antiquities, the museum is also actively expanding its collection of contemporary Asian art.
Even if you can’t view the entire collection in one visit, it’s central location and proximity to BART make it easy for repeat visits. Thursdays the museum is open until 9 pm and hosts workshops, screenings and other after-hours events that tie in a current topic with the collection.
Admission: Free for museum members, $15 for adults, $10 for seniors (65+), college students with ID and youths (13-17). Free for children under 12 and SFUSD students with ID. General admission on Thursdays after 5 pm is $5. General admission is free to all on Target First Free Sundays (the first Sunday of every month). A surcharge may apply for admission to special exhibitions.