New and Venerable Institutions: New Asian Art Museum

Mayor Willie Brown
On March 20, 2003, San Francisco celebrated the Grand Opening the New Asian Art Museum/Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture at 200 Larkin Street in the old Main Library. The 1917 building was updated by renowned architect Gae Aulenti of Milan. The New Asian Art Museum was completed as the result of a $160.5 million public/private partnership including a $50 million bond initiative. The museum features nearly 40,000 square feet of gallery space and will hold more than 14,000 objects representing 6,000 years of history. The oldest known Buddah in the world, a figure dated to 338 A.D., is among the treasures of the "New Asian." 

The opening day ceremony was held the morning after U.S. forces invaded Iraq. California's Secretary of State, San Franciscan Kevin Shelley made the sole mention of events in the Middle East during the ceremony when he told those gathered, "War represents the worst of humankind; art represents the best of humankind." The ceremony was interrupted by demonstrators for only a few seconds during remarks by Museum Director Emily Sano, but the scene was rife with drama. Helicopters swarmed overhead as news bureaus followed the anti-war demonstrators who had shut down nearby intersections. Surrounded by hundreds of art patrons, dignitaries, citizens, police officers, and demonstrators, the City ushered in its new Asian Art Museum. The San Francisco Boys' Chorus sang America the Beautiful and the National Anthem to a somber crowd. A scheduled blast of 300,000 firecrackers was cancelled. 

Detail I
Detail II

Copyright 2003 Hank Donat home