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Christopher Hall on a boat, picture

8 Reasons to Visit the Asian Art Museum

Posted by Christopher Hall on May 23, 2016
white jade cup from Uzbekistan at the Asian Art Museum, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Asian Art Museum
Photo caption
Calligraphic inscriptions decorate this white jade cup, most likely from Uzbekistan around 1440-1460.

Imagine a treasure chest unlike any other, overflowing with 18,000 precious objects. Then imagine trying to choose eight—just eight—of the most special objects among them.

That image was in my mind during a recent visit to San Francisco's Asian Art Museum, which faced exactly this situation. To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016, the museum—the country's preeminent treasure house of Asian visual arts—decided to highlight eight masterpieces with redesigned cases, lighting and information panels. Sprinkled throughout the permanent collection galleries, these eight superstars were chosen for their beauty, originality, historical importance, and rarity.

I decided to take a whirlwind tour of Asian art by strolling the galleries for an hour and stopping to study each of the eight. The item pictured above—no bigger than a napkin ring—is one I'd never noticed in all my previous visits.

It's an exquisite white jade cup with calligraphic inscriptions, probably from Uzbekistan around 1440-1460. The new lighting of this exceedingly rare object made it seem to glow from within.

Farther on, I came across the earliest dated Buddha sculpture in the world, a gilded bronze Chinese work from A.D. 338 whose new display now allows it to be viewed in the round.

gilded bronze Buddha statue at the Asian Art Museum, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Asian Art Museum
Photo caption
A gilded bronze statue from China, A.D. 338, is the earliest dated Buddha sculpture in the world.

Among the other masterpieces I encountered were a pale celadon stoneware ewer from Korea, a pair of carved sandstone statues from Cambodia depicting Hindu deities, and another Buddha statue, this one in sandstone from India. Amazingly, all of these are at least 1,000 years old.

And then there was one of my favorite objects in the museum, this amusingly rotund and remarkably friendly looking gilded bronze rhino from China. It happens to be 1,600-plus years old.

gilded bronze rhino from China at the Asian Art Museum, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Asian Art Museum
Photo caption
A gilded bronze rhino from China is one of the eight masterpieces highlighted by the Asian Art Museum for its 50th anniversary in 2016.

After my little tour, I stopped by the museum's cafe to try their new ice cream, created specially by San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe. Blending pureed adzuki bean—Japanese sweet beans—and crumbled Chinese almond cookies, the ice cream may not have been a masterpiece on the order of what I'd just seen, but it was still pretty darn good.

adzuki beans and almond cookie ice cream from Humphry Slomcombe, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Humphry Slocombe
Photo caption
Popular San Francisco ice creamery Humphry Slocombe created a new flavor for the museum cafe: pureed adzuki bean with crumbled Chinese almond cookies.