This Labor Day Weekend, we decided to explore the San Francisco Bay Area a bit, starting with the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, specifically to see the Lords of the Samurai exhibit on display there through September 20.
Long weekends are always a challenge for us: should we stay or should we go? This Labor Day weekend, we decided on a mini-staycation, opting to do things we could do in a day. Each of the three of us got to pick a day to do something we wanted to do. Frank chose going to San Francisco to see the samurai exhibit, so we loaded into the loaner Lincoln MKT, and off we went, up the peninsula toward the city.
We were a little reluctant to go up to the city this weekend, since we had heard that traffic was bad due to the closure of the Bay Bridge. We didn't encounter any major problems, and even found parking on the street across from the museum.
Frank and I were members of the Asian Art Museum a years ago, but it was at a different location, in Golden Gate Park. It's now housed in the former main library building, near City Hall. They moved to the current location near City Hall in 2003, with help from a bond measure and a $15 million gift from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee.
We arrived little late in the day, and hurried into the Samurai collection, housed on the main floor. There were three or four rooms, with scrolls, swords, and samurai armor. The armor looked like it was made from hard plastic woven together with colorful shoe laces, although I read that it was actually made from lacquer, iron, silk, and leather. I was surprised at how simple the swords were, and they reminded me of the Shun Japanese knives I've been coveting at Williams Sonoma. I confess: I've always secretly wanted to be a kitchen samurai.
The exhibit was well-laid out, with interesting placards explaining the various artifacts. Alex zoomed through like he was in labor and needed to get to the hospital quickly, and we trailed behind. He hasn't quite figured out that museums are meant to be savored. He lingered for a short time at the swords, and then proceeded to demonstrate how these might be used in an imaginary battle with aliens. He's nine. That's all I have to say about that.
In the "Daimyo for a Day" room, we got to try on a Samurai helmet, which was surprisingly heavy, and Alex got to leave his mark on a long scroll. The room featured elevated tatami mats, where a couple played a traditional Japanese game using black and white rocks that looked something like checkers. There was also a video on the Samurai in the back of the room, but we didn't stay for that.
We took the escalator upstairs and wound up at the back of the Indian art display, which had hundreds of fantastic sculpures of Hindu deities, primarily beautiful, limber goddesses with multiple limbs. The floor went on forever, and we were allowed to take no-flash photos, so I happily snapped away. I particularly liked this relief of the goddess Parvati, wife of Shiva, even though some of her limbs were missing, probably because she was about 900 years old. There's only so much a girl can do to keep young looking when you're nearly a thousand years old.
I was looking forward to seeing the Korean collection, which turned out to be much larger than I remembered the one in Golden Gate Park, which I always thought was disappointing. It turns out Mr. Moon, the museum's prime benefactor, gave a special grant to develop the Korean collection, to which I say, "Kamsa hamnida, Mr. Moon!"
As a Korean-American, I was very proud to see the beautiful celadon pottery, laquerware, modern art, scrolls, and sculptures of the Korean collection. There was one equisitely embroidered ceremonial han bok, or traditional Korean dress, hanging up in a glass case that was just stunning.
I wish Alexander could have been a little less impatient in these rooms, to see some of fine work on display here. I'd like to bring my mom to see it. I think she would be as proud as I was.
Between the Korean and Japanese exhibits, we walked through a special exhibit of historical Asian photographs. One that particulary caught my eye was a photo of a small series of stone steps. The placard read, "Stairs to the Exalted Hall of Politics for the People at the Hall of Joyful Splendor." I'm not sure that I've ever seen the word "politics" every used in the same sentence as the phrase "joyful splendor." Maybe that era will come around again some day.
The Asian Art Museum is a gem, and features many family-friendly events to help teach kids about Asian Art. You can find a full listing of events for kids at their site, along with a schedule of upcoming exhibitions. Whether you're a local or a visitor San Francisco, be sure to put this museum on your "To Do" list.
I'm looking forward to going back to see the Shanghai exhibition next year, since Shanghai is one of the most fascinating places we've visited. That runs February 12 - September 5, 2010. We may have to buy a family membership and make this a regular stop when we're in the city.
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is located at 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, California, and costs $12 for adults and kids under 12 are free. Special exhibits may carry an additional ticket fee. Thanks to a grant from Target, the first Sunday of each month are Free Admission. See the Asian Art Museum website for additional price information and the hours of operation.