Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds

Jun 16, 2023 – Sep 18, 2023
Osher Foundation Gallery

From the humorous to the grotesque, see the many ways that Asian cultures have envisioned the realm of the condemned over time.

Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds is a rollicking romp through the many ways that Asian visual cultures have imagined the afterlife of the condemned over time. Paintings, sculptures, maps, puppets, and religious objects from India, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines offer a colorful variety of visions of the underworld, ranging from the serious to the light-hearted. “There is a presumption that all representations of Hell across Asian cultures are the same or continuous,” says Jeff Durham, Curator of Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum, “but in fact, whether they appear in ancient traditions or the work of contemporary artists, depictions of Hell have been extraordinarily diverse: some are terrifying and gruesome, but many are humorous and playful.”

The exhibition is organized as a journey: beginning at the gates of Hell, the visitor passes through various conceptions of the underworld, finally arriving at depictions of the ways one might potentially make an escape or exit from Hell. “This exhibition is like a rollercoaster,” says Durham, “taking the visitor from excitement to relief; in the end, it shows that Hell is only as bad as we imagine it to be.” The majority of the 48 works on view are on loan from other institutions and collections; of the pieces from the museum collection, several are newly acquired and are being shown here for the first time.

On Sunday, Jul. 9, a devilishly good time awaits you on the dance floor at The Golden Soirée, a party in honor of Hell brought to you by Daybreaker. Visit our calendar for more details.


Image: detail of Utagawa Yoshifuji, Newly Published Comic Picture of Cats (Shinpan neko no giga), Japan, 1883. Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper. Susan L. and C. J. Peters. Photograph by Tom Dubrock.

Organizers & Sponsors

The presentation of Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds at the Asian Art Museum is made possible with the generous support of Lulu and Anthony Wang. Additional support is provided by Walter P. Knoepfel.

Sustained support generously provided by the following endowed funds: Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Endowment Fund for Exhibitions, Kao/Williams Contemporary Art Exhibitions Fund.

The exhibition, organized by the Asia Society Museum, New York, is possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, William Talbott Hillman Foundation, and Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.