[TIMELINE] Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art & Culture Opens (03/21/03)
- Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture Opens Doors
AsianWeek Staff Writer
Forty-four years ago, a Chicago millionaire named Avery Brundage
decided to donate a part of his Asian art collection to San
Francisco, if the city agreed to build a new museum to house it. As
a result, the city of San Francisco passed a bond measure in 1960
that allotted $2,725,000 to acquire and build a space constructed as
a wing of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. But
as the collection grew, the art needed a new home.
In 1994, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly supported a bond
measure to renovate the former Main Library building as the new home
for the Asian Art Museum. Today, the Asian Art Museum opens its
doors to a breathtakingly beautiful architectural setting that
houses thousands of pieces from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South
Asia and Western Asia in the 180,000 square foot building across
from San Francisco's City Hall.
Moving the collection and renovating the former main library were
not easy tasks. In 1995, the museum began vigorous fundraising to
complete the project. As a result, Chong-Moon Lee, a successful
entrepreneur, provided a healthy donation of $15 million dollars for
the main museum collection and $1 million dollars for the Korean
collection. The Asian Art Commission established the new site with
its generous contributor's name, calling the new location the Chong-
Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture.
After establishing the funds, the museum commissioned a renown
Italian architect, Gae Aulenti, to revamp the building, while
retaining the historic elements and framework of the 1917 structure.
Aulenti, whose projects include the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, says her
inspiration required conceptualizing the complexity and density of
an urban environment and generating architectural forms and spatial
relationships amidst such settings.
"We face the challenge of creating an inspirational showplace for an
unparalleled collection of precious art, while protecting and
preserving the integrity of an historic design," said Johnson S.
Bogart, chairman of the Asian Art Commission and Asian Art Museum
Foundation. "The architectural team we have selected represents the
finest international experience in both the design and exhibition
facilities and the rehabilitation of the historic structures."
Indeed, the old and the new are meshed in the new building. Upon
entering the building, museum patrons will notice the indoor
skylight court and a grand staircase that moves the eyes to the
museum's central space. The interior walls provide views into the
galleries as elevators take guests up to the second and third
floors, where all the art pieces are encased in separate, thematic
The first floor houses 8,500 square feet of special exhibition
galleries, while the second and third floors house nearly 14,000
works from the museum collection. Colorful paintings, ancient stone,
bronze sculpture, intricately carved jade, delicate ceramics,
embroidered textiles and other fine art pieces that span centuries
are separated into galleries that showcase the geographic and
historical relevance of each work.
"Our goal has been to combine, in the galleries, the greatest beauty
of design with greatest richness of the ideas in the arrangement of
artworks," said Forrest McGill, chief curator. "To reconsider which
artwork to put in the galleries to plan and prepare all new
explanatory panels, labels, maps and other didactics in an
integrated system the chance to do this for an entire museum in
one carefully coordinated campaign is something about which museum
The museum will also have special educational programs and a
resource center that provides background information on the arts and
culture of Asia. Daily tours, led by docents, and storytelling and
school programs will be provided for children and adults.
Said Emily J. Sano, director of the Asian Art Museum: "Through
accessibility, information and the opportunity to encounter art that
defines the philosophies, religions, aesthetic tastes and technical
skills of Asian peoples over thousands of years, we hope to become
the true bridge of understanding between East and West."
Beginning today, the Chong-Moon Lee Asian Art Museum will be open
Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended
evening hours every Thursday until 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for
adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for youth 12-17 and free for children
under 12. The museum is located at 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco.
For more information, call 415-581-3500.