Asian Art Museum

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Despite its rich and diverse offerings, Asian art in the United States is often relegated to a small gallery within larger museums. Not so in San Francisco where one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art has been housed in the Asian Art Museum since 1958. This landmark of cultural perspective is one of the city’s hottest must-sees.


The lack of awareness of Asian art in this country has always been of concern to our Asian population even as they have grown to outnumber their white and black counterparts in many areas, especially San Francisco. However, an awareness and love of the unique art contributions of many Asian cultures was not lost on Chicago native and art collector Avery Brundage. Throughout his life, this man amassed nearly 8,000 different pieces of various Asian art, most of which was bequeathed to the Society for Asian Art, which eventually became the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and spearheaded by the city itself.

Brundage was the specific goal of the Society when it formed in 1958 and when they got the green light from the man himself the next year they immediately launched a campaign to find a suitable spot to house and display this vast collection. As such, San Francisco voters approved a $2.75 million bond to build a facility for Brundage’s work which was to be a wing of the larger de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Upon Brundage’s death in 1975, a total of 7,700 different pieces were left to the Society which formed the foundation for their independent museum.

As the years passed, additional works were acquired by the curators of the Asian Art Museum at the de Young Museum to rousing success. So much so, in fact, that the wing that the Society built in the 1960s was no longer able to display, or even house, the numerous works that it now possessed. As such, an effort to find a new, independent home was begun, spearheaded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Korean national Chong-Moon Lee who donated $15 million to the cause. Eventually, in the 2000s, then-mayor of San Francisco, Diane Feinstein, suggested that the old San Francisco Public Library be renovated as part of a project to revitalize the Civic Center Plaza in the downtown area. The offer was accepted and the new building, redesigned by Italian architect Gae Aulenti.

The renovated building, located at 200 Larkin Street in the Civic Center Plaza, opened officially on 20 March 2003 and included about 75% more space than the old location in the de Young Museum. The architecture of the new location retains the Beaux-Arts style of de Young while also maintaining an open floor plan meant to welcome people in to discover Asian art. In addition, a new logo campaign, launched in 2011, which depicts an upside down “A” is meant to reaffirm the museum’s mission to help people see Asian art from a “new perspective.”

Main Attraction

The museum is closed Mondays, as well as on New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day though it often closes early on Fridays and Saturdays in order to hose special events. Tickets are priced in two categories General Admission (Adults) and Seniors, College Students, and Youths. Children under age 12 are admitted for free.

Once at the Asian Art Museum, visitors have two floors with over 185,000 square feet of exhibit space to view which includes eight separate galleries dedicated to specific Asian cultures. This includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art among others. Complimentary self-guided audio tours are also included with admission.

In addition to regular viewing, the museum frequently sponsors family and community-oriented events designed around their mission to make Asian art more accessible. This includes workshops, lectures, storytelling, and tours as well as an extensive library of Asian literature which includes more than 40,000 titles.

Why It’s a Must-See

Offering the most extensive collection of Asian art in the U.S. and with a mission to spread its beauty and appreciation to as many people as possible, the Asian Art Museum is a great addition to any San Francisco trip. Located in the heart of San Francisco it is an easy addition to any trip that will likely change the way you look at Asian art.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.
Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Asian Art Museum either online or in person.
Purchase a Tourist pass. The Asian Art Museum is available on the Go SF Card