Art Market

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum will remove a bust of its founder.

Justin Kamp
Jun 16, 2020 4:55PM, via New York Times

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Photo by LPS.1, via Wikimedia Commons.

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum will remove a bust of founder Avery Brundage after criticisms of the patron’s racist and anti-Semitic viewpoints resurfaced in the wake of nationwide protests of systemic racism and police brutality. The bust, which currently resides in the museum’s foyer, will be moved into storage when the museum reopens this summer, according to director and chief executive Dr. Jay Xu. But the calls for removal have sparked a deeper examination of the museum’s collection and programming, which some see as catering to a predominantly white point of view.

The museum—which was founded in 1966 when Brundage donated his collection of roughly 8,000 pieces of Asian art to the city of San Francisco—has been criticized in the past for exoticizing Asian culture. The artist Scott Tsuchitani told the New York Times that exhibitions such as 2004’s “Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile” and 2015’s “Seduction: Japan’s Floating World” render Asian art and culture in harmful colonialist stereotypes.

In a statement posted on the museum’s website in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Dr. Xu wrote:

If we pride ourselves as guardians of a historical art collection, we must contend with the very history of how our museum came to be. Avery Brundage, whose collection forms the nucleus of this institution, espoused racist and anti-Semitic views. We have removed his name from museum initiatives but have yet to address this history in a fully open and transparent way. Only by publicly condemning Brundage’s racism and examining the foundation of our museum can we become an even greater source of healing and connection.

Dr. Xu said that in addition to renaming initiatives and removing Brundage’s bust, the museum will also examine its collection to look for discrepancies in provenance and opportunities for restitution.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian Art Museum had been on track to unveil its completed, $103-million renovation to the public in early May. The museum’s reopening and the unveiling of its revamped facilities have been pushed back to later this year.

Justin Kamp
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019