Notes from the Field

Asian Museum Leaders Arrive for Directors Forum in San Francisco

November 9, 2011

This week, representatives from renowned museums of Asian art from across Asia and the United States met from November 8-10 in a pioneering conference organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Asia Foundation’s Margaret F. Williams Memorial Fellows in Asian Art Program and the Brayton Wilbur Jr. Memorial Fellows in Asian Art Program sponsored their participation in the “San Francisco Asian Art Forum for Museum Directors” – part of an ongoing series of exchanges the Foundation administers in cooperation with the Museum. The Asian senior museum executives joined their American counterparts to share strategies for fostering greater global awareness of Asian art and cultures while exploring models for collaboration and partnerships among their institutions. According to Dr. Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum, “The Forum is an opportunity for our museum to serve as a bridge of understanding for international museums and the diverse cultures of Asia.”

Asian Museum Leaders Arrive for Directors Forum in San Francisco

Left to right: Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu, Asia Foundation President David Arnold, Ambassador Haydn Williams, and Judith Wilbur. Photo by Whitney Legge.

Inspiration for the Forum grew out of discussions between Dr. Xu and Ambassador Haydn Williams, president emeritus of The Asia Foundation, who recalled our historical engagement in convening for the first time, chief justices, university presidents, and others, respectively, from Asia and the United States. Our relationship with the Asian Art Museum is longstanding, dating back to the mid-1960s, when Avery Brundage first presented his extensive and stunning Asian art collection to San Francisco. During his tenure as Asia Foundation president, Ambassador Williams was a founding member of the Asian Art Commission, formed to help welcome this extraordinary gift to the city. This cooperation with the Museum continues; The Asia Foundation, along with the Henry Luce Foundation, provided core funding for the Directors Forum.

The Foundation administers the two fellowship programs that supported participation of the Asian directors in the Forum. The Brayton Wilbur Jr. Memorial Fellows in Asian Art Program – established with the generous support of Mrs. Judith Wilbur, an Asian art commissioner and trustee of The Asia Foundation – honors her late husband, a long-standing patron of the arts and former chairman of the Foundation’s board of trustees. The Margaret F. Williams Memorial Fellows in Asian Art Program – established with the generous support of Ambassador Williams – honors his late wife, a founding docent of the Asian Art Museum. The program reflects her affection for the region where she took great pleasure in visiting museums during her many trips to Asia with Ambassador Williams.

The fellowship programs aim to contribute to the professional enhancement of Asian and American specialists in Asian curatorial art through affiliations with the Asian Art Museum and museums in Asia. To date, fellows have included experts from Japan and Korea who have spent time at the Asian Art Museum; in turn, Asian Art Museum curators have visited China, Taiwan, Japan, and India. For example, the Museum’s Japanese art curator conferred with the Eisei Bunko Museum of the Hosokawa family to arrange for the loan of objects for the Asian Art Museum’s “Lords of the Samurai” exhibit. In addition, as a Margaret F. Williams Memorial Fellow, Dr. Xu explored plans for the Forum with museum directors and curators during his travels to Asia.

The Asian Art Museum plans to make the Forum a biennial event.

Jerry Martin is the Assistant Director of The Asia Foundation’s Asian American Exchange Unit. He can be reached at jmartin@asiafound.org.

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