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Experience, Engage, Empower: Expanding Contemporary Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (AAMSF) has a significant history of engaging Asian contemporary artists, commissioning and collecting works such as Xu Bing’s (b. 1955) first-ever digital animation The Character of Characters (2012), which he created specifically for this museum (Fig. 1). We have also organized groundbreaking exhibitions like ‘Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past’ (2012), curated in collaboration with Mami Kataoka, now the director of Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. With the establishment of the Contemporary Art Department and my own appointment as the inaugural head of contemporary art in 2019, the museum has taken another step down a road it began to follow well over a decade ago. As part of a museum-wide transformation project, the AAMSF is also repurposing existing spaces and constructing new spaces as additional venues for exhibiting contemporary art. Fundamental to this project is the new Akiko Yamazaki & Jerry Yang Pavilion, which will open this spring and expand the museum by over 1,200 square metres (Figs 2 and 3). More than a simple physical expansion, however, the transformation project serves as a catalyst for a conceptual and strategic embrace of Asian contemporary art in its full complexity. Building upon the museum’s past successes, the project marks a paradigm shift for contemporary art at the museum.

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March/April 2020
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