Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

The Via Blog travel news + notes + tasty tidbits

Christopher Hall on a boat, picture

Asian Art Museum: A San Francisco Treasure

Posted by Christopher Hall on August 19, 2013
  • exterior of Asian Art Museum at night, image
    Photo caption
    The Beaux Arts building, now home to the museum, was once the main library in San Francisco.
  • Himalayan Gallery in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, image
    Photo caption
    The Himalayan Gallery touts exceptional carvings and statues.
  • jade pieces at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, image
    Photo caption
    Exquisitely carved jade pieces are a highlight for many visitors at the museum.
  • statues in Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, image
    Photo caption
    The varied galleries take you through time and civilizations.


Road Journals Blog—For a crash course on the arts of Asia, you could spend months—and a small fortune—touring cultural hotspots of that sprawling continent. Or you could simply head to San Francisco's Civic Center and check out the Asian Art Museum.

One of the largest and most comprehensive museums in the world devoted to the art of Asia, the Asian has a permanent collection numbering more than 18,000 objects spanning six millennia. Let me repeat that: 18,000 objects spanning 6,000 years. Amazing.

The museum is housed in the 1917 Beaux Arts former main library, which was converted and expanded with modern additions in 2003 by big-name Italian architect Gae Aulenti (responsible, among other projects, for the Museé d'Orsay in Paris).

The galleries show about 2,000 objects at any given time—from delicate Korean celadon ceramics, exquisite Japanese screens, and whimsical Balinese shadow puppets, to Tibetan ritual objects, massive stone representations of Hindu deities from India, and a gilt statue from 383 A.D. that's the world's oldest known dated Chinese Buddha. There are also terrific temporary exhibitions, plenty of live demonstrations, and try-it-yourself art activities.

The museum's galleries are full of small collections that are treasures in and of themselves. Among my favorites are the jade objects, dramatically exhibited in a dark space with pinpoint lighting, and the Japanese baskets. How exciting can baskets be, you ask? All I can say is that the startling forms and textures the makers achieve by merely bending reeds or bamboo strips will certainly bend your mind as well.

Photography courtesy of the Asian Art Museum

This blog post was first published in August 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.