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Old World, Renewed 

Wednesday, May 16 2012
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Asian art is hot, selling at unprecedented highs and eclipsing Western art. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, one of the largest in the world dedicated to Asian art and culture, taps into that energy with the exhibition “Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past.” Last fall after the museum went through financial hard times, director Jay Xu announced it was reinventing itself to appeal to a broader audience and would start showing more contemporary work. “Our focus has shifted from presenting stunning artworks to delivering captivating art experiences centered around stunning artworks,” Xu wrote on the museum’s website. This experience explores Asian cosmology and spirituality; contemporary art curator Allison Harding says it’s big in lots of ways — 31 artists and more than 60 new works, along with 80 from the museum’s collection, and for the first time the entire museum will be used to display the exhibit. Harding says that seeing the traditional work alongside the new changes the way viewers relate to it. For example, there’s Korean artist Bae Young-whan, whose installation of small ceramic mountain ranges echo the shape of graphs of his brain waves. Some people at the museum might feel uncomfortable with shaking things up. But Harding says exhibiting the work of these Asian artists for the first time in the U.S. is a gift to the city, and having living artists who can speak for themselves has brought a new energy to the museum.
May 18-Sept. 2, 10 a.m., 2012

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Emily Wilson

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