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Thurs: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
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Fri-Mon: 10 AM—4:30 PM
Thurs: 1—7:30 PM
Location
200 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415.581.3500
Tickets
Exhibition

Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Jun 17, 2016 – Sep 18, 2016
Lee Gallery

Behold a treasure trove of emperors’ prized possessions, including artworks they themselves created.

Passed from dynasty to dynasty and once sheltered in Beijing’s Forbidden City, these masterpieces of Chinese art were conveyed to Taiwan amid conflict and now reside in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Discover more than 150 objects from one of the world’s greatest collections of Chinese art, more than half of which will be on view in the U.S. for the first time. Rarely seen outside the court at the time of their creation, these artworks inherited an aura of mystery that has fueled an enduring fascination. Characterized by their extraordinary splendor, beauty and richness, these objects represent the highlights of China’s artistic accomplishments.

Through exquisite paintings, ceramics, jades and more, Emperors’ Treasures explores the identities of nine rulers who reigned from the 12th through 20th centuries. By examining each ruler’s contribution to the arts and the eras’ changing styles, this exhibition reveals how emperors’ personal tastes shaped the evolution of art in China.

Exhibition Highlights

With more than 150 fascinating artworks on view, Emperors’ Treasures could easily absorb your whole day with its captivating offerings. Don’t have all day? The exhibition’s curators have identified a not-to- be-missed selection of the show’s prized pieces. If you’re pressed for time, check out these objects and you can put your fears of missing out to rest!

"Chicken Cup"
Cup with chicken design. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Ming dynasty, reign of Emperor Chenghua (1465–1487). Porcelain with underglaze and overglaze multicolor decoration. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guci 005189 Cang-164-19-1. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

In the mid-fifteenth century, an extraordinary type of Ming porcelain known as doucai ware emerged, as potters ventured from blue-and-white ware to the more complex underglazing and overglazing technique that produced multicolors. The depiction of a rooster, hen and chicks chasing insects represents a wish for nobility, wealth and good fortune. (The Chinese word for “chicken” is a pun on the word for “luck.”) By the 16th century, this type of porcelain commanded large sums in the art market, and its value has certainly not declined since. Just two years ago, a similar “chicken cup” was sold for over $36 million, setting the world auction record for any Chinese porcelain.

Grotesque Stones calligraphy
Grotesque Stones in the slender-gold style, by Zhao Ji (Emperor Huizong, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), reign of Emperor Huizong (1100–1125). Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Gushu, 000242-2. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Emperor Huizong, who preferred artistic pursuits to governance, created his own “slender-gold” style of calligraphy, named for its delicate, elongated brushstrokes. This work describes an unusual rock; it looked, the emperor wrote, like a beast about to pounce, or a dragon about to soar. While they might seem odd subjects for poetry, rocks have long been admired in Chinese culture, as a kind of artwork carved by nature.

"Meat-shaped stone"
Meat-shaped stone. Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Stone: jasper; stand: gold. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guza 000178 Lü-413. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

This jasper stone shaped like a piece of pork is one of the most popular works at the National Palace Museum, Taipei. A “smart carving” (qiaodiao), the object was made by deeply understanding the stone’s properties and using its natural hues and forms to an advantage. Tiny holes were drilled in the surface to replicate pores in the meat, and traces of pigment indicate that the top layer was artificially colored to a lustrous reddish brown, resembling pork belly marinated in soy sauce. With these techniques, this cold, hard piece of stone is utterly transformed into a tender, succulent piece of dongpo rou, a fatty pork dish.

Vase with revolving core
Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, approx. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guci 017214 Lie-408. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Chinese potters of the eighteenth century were some of the greatest the world has ever seen, and this piece boasts both artistic and technical mastery — it even has moving parts. The neck, upper body, lower body and inner vase components were each fired independently and, once finished, fitted together in such a way that the inner vase actually rotates when the neck is turned. The decoration is no less complex; it features eight trigrams (combinations of broken and unbroken lines symbolizing yin and yang energy, from the ancient classic text “I Ching”) and wish-granting wands in the shape of mushroom heads, a motif associated with longevity and heaven in Daoism.

Portrait of Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan as the first Yuan emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Album leaf, ink and color on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei, 000324-00003. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

This portrait of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Yuan dynasty, captures a head position and calm facial expression typical of formal imperial portraits. However, the use of contouring and soft color washes to give the illusion of three-dimensionality marks a departure from traditional Chinese methods, which primarily relied on ink delineation. After conquering China and ending over 100 years of internal struggles, Kublai Khan became the first non-native ruler of all of China. In this portrait, his Mongol identity is evident in his plain robe, leather hat and three braided loops of hair hanging below each ear. This small bust portrait was likely produced by a court painter at the emperor’s decree.

Priceless Pork Belly

Don’t miss the U.S. debut of “Meat-shaped stone,” the world-famous Chinese sculpture resembling braised pork belly. This priceless pork belly is one of the rare Chinese imperial artworks featured in Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, on view at the Asian Art Museum from June 17 – September 18, 2016.

Learn how you can see, eat, make, and hear it.

See It
Meat-shaped stone. Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Jasper with gold stand. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guza 000178 Lü-413. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

This Qing dynasty sculpture was carved from a piece of banded jasper, a naturally occurring stone that forms in layers, the artwork resembles a thick slab of dongpo rou, or braised pork belly. Capitalizing on the jasper’s natural appearance, the unknown Qing-dynasty artist carved the stone until it resembled layers of pork skin, lean meat and fat. Then the skin layer was stained, which, along with the veining of the stone, enhances the illusion.

Traveling outside of Asia for the first time, this artwork is one of the highlights of the exhibition. When on display in Japan in 2014, the stone drew an average of 6,000 people per day. Even noted chef, author and TV foodie Anthony Bourdain called the artwork “the pork of my dreams.”

The “Meat-shaped stone” is exhibited in the Resource Room on the first floor.

Eat It

Cafe Asian dongpo pork

Has the “Meat-shaped stone” left you with a serious craving? We’ve got you covered. Dongpo rou, the braised pork belly dish rendered so realistically in jasper by an unknown Qing-dynasty artist, is available at Cafe Asia during the Emperors’ Treasures exhibition. Chef Melinda Quirino seasons the pork with soy sauce, sugar, ginger and other ingredients for a mouthwatering blend of sweet and savory, then braises it for over two hours to achieve the signature succulent texture. Feast your eyes on the art, then enjoy a literal feast. 

Priceless Pork Belly, Plated

Join us for a monthlong porkfest to welcome the U.S. debut of the famous “Meat-shaped stone.” In tribute to this celebrated work of art, 12 San Francisco chefs, including Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s, Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, and Michelle Mah of The Slanted Door, have created signature pork belly dishes inspired by the “Meat-shaped stone.” These dishes will be featured in their restaurants for four week only, from June 17 through July 17, 2016.

Make It

Make this tasty treasure at home with our handy step-by-step video to preparing dongpo rou. All you’ll need are a few ingredients, available at most Asian grocery stores, and cooking supplies hiding around the kitchen. Be advised: The process is time-consuming — you should budget about four hours from start to finish. But the juicy, tender, sweet-and-savory pork belly is worth every minute you’ll spend — trust us. 

Delight your taste buds, impress your friends (if you feel like sharing), and eat like a king (or should we say an emperor).

Make It Vegan

Vegan dongpo rou
Don’t eat pork, but still want to taste this iconic dish? Try our vegan recipe featuring winter melon and green jackfruit…

Hear It

In the mood for… pork? This sizzling set brings together two seemingly unrelated subjects: meat and stones. From punk rock to Motown, this positively punny playlist will surely jumpstart your dongpo party. Let’s face it. Pork rocks.

Listen to Pork Rocks…

Shop It

meat_stone_magnet_430wjpg
If you’ve still got an appetite for pork, head to the museum store for some meaty mementos. We’ve got “Meat-shaped stone” paperweights, pens, magnets and more, all for under $20.

 
Bonus: If an attractive stranger asks to borrow a pen, you’ll be equipped with a conversation starter that immediately identifies you as an art lover and a foodie.

Discovering Dynasties and the Rulers Who Shaped Them

The exhibition Emperors’ Treasures offers insights into Chinese life, culture and history during four imperial dynasties that span more than 800 years. To get you started, here’s a glimpse into each dynasty’s influence on arts and culture, as well as the lives of eight emperors and one empress who individually influenced Chinese artistic tastes. From a Mongol conqueror to a decadent empress dowager, their personalities are as distinct as their times.

Visit Emperors’ Treasures to immerse yourself in this rich history and the singular works of art it produced.

Song dynasty (Northern, 960-1127; Southern 1127-1279)
Vase carved with Emperor Qianlong’s poem on the base. Official Ru kiln, Henan province, Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). High–fired ceramic with celadon glaze. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guci 017856 Kun-223-5. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The formulated order, harmonious presentations and exquisitely crafted forms of Song art make it a symbol of China’s renaissance. Song art continued to prove pivotal in later dynasties, inspiring court arts for centuries to come.

Emperor Huizong (1082–1135): Great patron of arts and philosophy
Huizong was raised in the palace with no expectation of ever becoming emperor. After the unexpected death of his older brother, Huizong was elevated to emperor. Leaving much of the job of governing to his councilors, Huizong indulged himself in cultural pursuits with careless extravagance. He was a great painter, calligrapher and patron of Daoism, classical rituals, tea culture, music and ceramics. During his reign, arts and philosophy prospered immensely.

Emperor Gaozong (1127–1162): Master of calligraphy
The ninth son of Emperor Huizong, Gaozong became emperor when his ousted father and older brother were taken captive by the nomadic Jurchen of the northeast. Gaozong settled the new Song capital in Hangzhou. During his rule, he reestablished Huizong’s painting academy, recruited learned scholars to his court and continued to strengthen the imperial collection of painting and calligraphy. A gifted and influential calligrapher, Gaozong mastered multiple script styles.

Yuan dynasty (1271-1369)
Calligraphic works, by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) and Xianyu Shu (1257–1302). Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Album leaves, eight pages, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Gushu 000252-0. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Yuan-dynasty works demonstrate the rich diversity of Mongol-ruled society. A departure from the delicateness of Song art, Yuan art captures the coexistence of ethnicities and religions while reflecting the unrest caused by ethnic conflict. Motivated by the Mongols’ ambition of creating a universal empire, commercial trade with many regions of the world expanded enormously during this period, which infused Chinese culture with new points of view.

Kublai Khan (1215–1294): Mongol conqueror turned ruler
The grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan conquered China and founded the Yuan dynasty. Although Kublai Khan himself did not contribute to any great artistic achievements, he unified the opposing Song and Jin (Jurchen-ruled) dynasties, ending over 100 years of internal struggles. The first non-native ruler of all of China, he moved the capital south from the Mongolian steppe to what is now Beijing — which resulted in an uprising he barely contained.

Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Cats in a flower-and-rock garden, 1426, by Zhu Zhanji (Emperor Xuande, 1398–1435). Ming dynasty, reign of Emperor Xuande (1425–1435). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guhua 000421. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Seeking to regain the esteem of the Han Chinese majority in the heartland, the early Ming rulers restored a bright (ming) culture that deeply integrated Classicism, Confucianism, Daoism and Tibetan Buddhism. This era marked a dramatic rise and flourishing of the arts, and witnessed new developments in the study of painting, porcelain, jade and lacquer.

Emperor Yongle (1360–1424): Promoter of Islamic culture
Yongle’s unprecedented naval diplomacy sparked an increase in Chinese exploration, which reached as far as the coast of East Africa and enticed Westerners with Chinese wonders. He promoted Islamic culture and art, which inspired innovations in Chinese art.

Emperor Xuande (1398–1435): Renowned artist-emperor
Not only was Xuande a great military leader during his short 10-year reign, he was extraordinarily skilled as a calligrapher and painter, particularly of intimate garden scenes depicting flowers and animals.

Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Peaks emerging from spring clouds, by Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715). Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722). Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Zhonghua 000052. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Under the Manchu emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong, China experienced unprecedented prosperity and exuberance in arts, interior design and architecture, before dramatic historical events marked an end to imperial China in 1911.

Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722): Admirer of Western art and technology
Kangxi kept abreast of global technological advancements and encouraged innovation in the fields of science, culture and the arts. His studies of Western thought included such diverse subjects as mathematics, astronomy, geography, cartography, pharmacology, Latin, musical theory, European philosophy, painting and crafts. Developing relationships with foreign missionaries and royal European families, he was the first Chinese emperor to allow Westerners in court.

Emperor Yongzheng (1678–1735): Art connoisseur with sophisticated taste
A calligrapher and a poet, Yongzheng was also deeply interested in antiques and recording works of art for posterity. He collected large numbers of objects produced in earlier periods. His artistic taste was elegant and refined, and he was personally involved in the decorative and functional design of imperial objects, giving frequent (some might say picky) critiques and instructions to artists.

Emperor Qianlong (1711–1799): The “Old Man of Ten Perfections”
Refinement, extravagance and superior technical skills characterized the courtly arts during Qianlong’s period. He was also a prolific poet, completing more than 40,000 poetry inscriptions. He valued harmony between the old and new, and the East and West.

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908): A regent with a lavish lifestyle
Cixi ruled from “behind the screen” during the reigns of her son and nephew, respectively the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors. Her reign greatly intensified the country’s poverty and weakening military, leading to unrest that culminated in the fall of the Qing empire in 1911. While she lived a lavish lifestyle and surrounded herself with luxurious goods — including porcelains decorated with lush floral motifs — the once-flourishing art of the late Qing empire declined.

Exploring Taiwan

Join ABC7’s Kristen Sze as she explores objects from one of the world’s greatest collections of Chinese art and Taiwan. 

 
These masterpieces will be on display in Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, on view at the Asian Art Museum from June 17 through September 18, 2016 . You’ll not only learn more about these magnificent works of art, but you’ll also experience Taiwan today.  Home to breathtaking landscapes, diverse Asian cuisine, rich culture, and so much more.

Explore other facets of Taiwan through these ABC7 Bay Area Life segments:   
The Art and Culture of Taiwan 
The Many Tastes of Taiwan 
The Tea House that Invented Bubble Tea 
The Many Treasures of Taiwan

Emperors’ Treasures: Exploring Taiwan was made possible with the support of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and United Airlines.

What People are Saying

“In an art-museum context the word ‘experience,’ with its overtones of infotainment or Disney, can send chills up your spine. And certainly, there’s more than enough of that sort of experience at the moment. But when executed well—and it is being done superbly well right now at the Asian Art Museum—the result can be a multifaceted exhibition that enriches our understanding of the subject and renders it accessible without dumbing it down.”

— Eric Gibson, The Wall Street Journal

More Emperors’ Treasures Press

“A feast for the eyes.” —The New York Times

“…there is no shortage of exquisite objects in Emperors’ Treasures.” —The Wall Street Journal

“…an opportunity not to be missed.” —The Wall Street Journal

“This unique exhibition stuns at every turn.” —Asian Art Newspaper

“Go simply to enjoy the beauty, workmanship, rarity and value of these works.” —San Jose Mercury News

“Strikingly modern.” —San Jose Mercury News

“Emperors’ Rule!” —Bay Area Reporter

Read more:
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Asian Art Newspaper
San Jose Mercury News
Bay Area Reporter
SF Weekly

#EmperorsTreasures on Social Media

“The Asian, located right in Civic Center, always has very interesting beautiful exhibits, the current one [Emperor’s Treasures] is especially worth visiting. With exquisite jade work, extremely fine metal work decorating wood and pottery pieces, paintings and beautiful calligraphy on display in four galleries, it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve seen there in years.” — @EdK

“At the Asian Art Museum’s Emperors’ Treasures exhibit. So much cool stuff to see, and a range of pieces that span nearly 1000 years!” —@danfreedman

Everyone’s lining up to see #EmperorsTreasures @asianartmuseum” —@sarah_i_think

“As a child I was obsessed with the movie ‘The Last Emperor’ the current exhibit @asianartmuseum is treasures of the Emperor and it is amazing!!!! I highly suggest going to SF to see it!!!” —@ogsparklelove

“If you enjoy museums and Asian art, go to this museum. It has a good collection, and until Sept 18th you have a unique chance to marvel at the fantastic pieces in Emperors’ Treasures, beautifully displayed in four rooms.” —@CarlosT

“Breathtaking and beautifully curated.” —@Chantal42

“Meat-shaped stone”

“In our foodie-friendly age, where shots of delicious meals rival art selfies for Instagram supremacy, the stone is now primed to become a hit in America on its first journey stateside. It even has a hashtag: #PricelessPorkBelly.” —ArtNet News

“The food is as good as the art.” —San Francisco Travel Association

“A feeding frenzy.” —7×7

“Eat your weight in pork belly.” —Thrillist’s “Every Fun Thing You Absolutely Must Do This Summer”

Read more:
SF Chronicle
Bravo
Crispy

#PricelessPorkBelly on Social Media

@junepeicui


“The Chinese were way ahead of the #bacon / #porkbelly obsession. Behold, the meat stone at SF’s @asianartmuseum” —@kateleahy

“Visiting the Asian Art Museum is always a treat, particularly with the #pricelessporkbelly on display in the exhibit and in the museum’s cafe.” —@journeyazeri5

“Is it weird that I drooled just so slightly when I saw this poster for a pork belly sculpture featured at the SF Asian Art Museum? I think I already know the answer to that question.” —@ah_yu_in_cali

“Got to see the #pricelessporkbelly up close and personal and was left in awe. #noregrets” —@fangeats

“My mom says life imitates art, or something like that. #pricelessporkbelly” —@eva.leanne

What People are Saying

“In an art-museum context the word ‘experience,’ with its overtones of infotainment or Disney, can send chills up your spine. And certainly, there’s more than enough of that sort of experience at the moment. But when executed well—and it is being done superbly well right now at the Asian Art Museum—the result can be a multifaceted exhibition that enriches our understanding of the subject and renders it accessible without dumbing it down.”

— Eric Gibson, The Wall Street Journal

More Emperors’ Treasures Press

“A feast for the eyes.” —The New York Times

“…there is no shortage of exquisite objects in Emperors’ Treasures.” —The Wall Street Journal

“…an opportunity not to be missed.” —The Wall Street Journal

“This unique exhibition stuns at every turn.” —Asian Art Newspaper

“Go simply to enjoy the beauty, workmanship, rarity and value of these works.” —San Jose Mercury News

“Strikingly modern.” —San Jose Mercury News

“Emperors’ Rule!” —Bay Area Reporter

Read more:
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Asian Art Newspaper
San Jose Mercury News
Bay Area Reporter
SF Weekly

#EmperorsTreasures on Social Media

“The Asian, located right in Civic Center, always has very interesting beautiful exhibits, the current one [Emperor’s Treasures] is especially worth visiting. With exquisite jade work, extremely fine metal work decorating wood and pottery pieces, paintings and beautiful calligraphy on display in four galleries, it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve seen there in years.” — @EdK

“At the Asian Art Museum’s Emperors’ Treasures exhibit. So much cool stuff to see, and a range of pieces that span nearly 1000 years!” —@danfreedman

Everyone’s lining up to see #EmperorsTreasures @asianartmuseum” —@sarah_i_think

“As a child I was obsessed with the movie ‘The Last Emperor’ the current exhibit @asianartmuseum is treasures of the Emperor and it is amazing!!!! I highly suggest going to SF to see it!!!” —@ogsparklelove

“If you enjoy museums and Asian art, go to this museum. It has a good collection, and until Sept 18th you have a unique chance to marvel at the fantastic pieces in Emperors’ Treasures, beautifully displayed in four rooms.” —@CarlosT

“Breathtaking and beautifully curated.” —@Chantal42

“Meat-shaped stone”

“In our foodie-friendly age, where shots of delicious meals rival art selfies for Instagram supremacy, the stone is now primed to become a hit in America on its first journey stateside. It even has a hashtag: #PricelessPorkBelly.” —ArtNet News

“The food is as good as the art.” —San Francisco Travel Association

“A feeding frenzy.” —7×7

“Eat your weight in pork belly.” —Thrillist’s “Every Fun Thing You Absolutely Must Do This Summer”

Read more:
SF Chronicle
Bravo
Crispy

#PricelessPorkBelly on Social Media

@junepeicui


“The Chinese were way ahead of the #bacon / #porkbelly obsession. Behold, the meat stone at SF’s @asianartmuseum” —@kateleahy

“Visiting the Asian Art Museum is always a treat, particularly with the #pricelessporkbelly on display in the exhibit and in the museum’s cafe.” —@journeyazeri5

“Is it weird that I drooled just so slightly when I saw this poster for a pork belly sculpture featured at the SF Asian Art Museum? I think I already know the answer to that question.” —@ah_yu_in_cali

“Got to see the #pricelessporkbelly up close and personal and was left in awe. #noregrets” —@fangeats

“My mom says life imitates art, or something like that. #pricelessporkbelly” —@eva.leanne

Main image: White Falcon (detail), by Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione, Italian, 1688–1766). China; Qing dynasty, reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736–1795). Hanging scroll, colors on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guhua 000958. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Organizers & Sponsors

Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Presentation is made possible with the generous support of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, Doris Shoong Lee and Theodore Bo Lee, Robert and Vivian Tsao, Diane B. Wilsey, The Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Fund for Excellence in Exhibitions and Presentations, East West Bank, United, Alphawood Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, BizLink Technology, Inc., Jamie and Steve Chen, Lee Chen, Christie’s, C.M. Capital Corporation, Fred Eychaner, Winnie and Michael Feng, Doug Tilden and Teresa Keller Tilden, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, The American Friends of the Shanghai Museum, Julia K. Cheng, Cheng & Tsui Company, Fred M. Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, H. Christopher Luce and Tina Liu, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.O.C., and anonymous donors. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Art and the Humanities, and in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Media Sponsors: ABC7, KQED, Sing Tao Daily, World Journal, Sina.

Location

First Floor Special Exhibition Galleries