As reported in today’s (May 23, 2010) LA Times, our intervention has left a lasting impression on the Asian Art Museum’s director Jay Xu:
However, mention of last year’s public brouhaha around the same time sends him simmering.
When their “Lords of the Samurai” exhibition opened, a guerrilla collective launched a spoof website criticizing its promotion of the “gentleman warrior myth,” as well as the exotic fantasy of the East . . . (Read full article here)
What might appear to indicate effectiveness on the part of our work is actually belied by the fact that this museum continues to produce exhibitions such as the current Shanghai show, which, as the Times reports, has drawn accusations of “muddle-headedness and superficiality” and was roundly panned by SF Chronicle’s art critic Kenneth Baker.
It only seems to indicate how little the museum has been willing to change in the wake of the “public brouhaha,” that despite the acknowledgement of our concerns by scholars and museum professionals around the country (e.g. a curator, an educator, even a volunteer), commercial dogma continues to rule the day.
Museums are among the public’s most trusted sites of knowledge production, yet what kind of knowledge is produced here? An endless stream of imagery of objectified Asian bodies: “The Timeless Oriental”—whether they be women in cheongsam or kimono, or men as martial artists, monks or samurai—that neither protest nor public embarrassment seems to have any effect on.
Keep in mind that this museum is publicly-funded and city-owned, to the tune of more than seven million taxpayer dollars a year, in a city where roughly a third of the population is Asian. Where is the commitment, as civic institution, to serving the cultural well-being of its communities in the here and now? Where is the relevance, scholarship, or stewardship in 2010?
Instead, time and again, programming seems to be driven by a marketplace ideology that flies in the face of the cultural mission of a non-profit, public institution, and ultimately comes at the expense of its communities.
The truth is that as recently as 2004, this museum operated under an actual policy that “No Asian American artists will be shown in the Asian Art Museum.*“ Again, this is at a publicly-funded, city-owned museum in San Francisco in the 21st century.
Will they ever learn?
*This has been confirmed verbally multiple times with multiple sources in both PR/Marketing and Public Programs/Education departments, who were employed by the AAMSF at the time the policy was in effect, and most of whom still are. We were first informed of it in late 2004 by a member of museum management, and reconfirmed it with museum department heads we spoke with outside the museum during our intervention at the Matcha sword event on 8/27/09. We also verified it in February 2010 with the head of an Asian American arts non-profit in San Francisco who was employed at the museum at the time the policy was in place.