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

Liu Jianhua: Collected Letters

Porcelain letters and fragments of Chinese characters, suspended in midair, mingle in a silent symphony of symbols, open to interpretation and new readings.

With Collected Letters, Liu Jianhua, one of China’s foremost installation artists, has created a thought-provoking work of art that blends the classic and contemporary. Commissioned by the Society for Asian Art for the museum’s 50th anniversary, Liu’s striking installation links the building’s past as San Francisco’s Main Library with the museum’s distinctly forward-looking mission. It’s almost as if an old book has been plucked off a shelf and shaken out, its shattered sentences ejected and frozen as art.

Each of the installation’s 1,600 pieces was handmade by Liu and a team of 20 ceramic artists over five months in Jingdezhen, China’s renowned center for porcelain production. Weighing in at over a ton, Collected Letters is supported by a special steel grid rigged to the loggia’s ceiling — an engineering triumph that blends this modern wonder into its historic surroundings.

An adjacent display of Song Dynasty porcelain invites further reflection: the understated minimalism of these traditional works complements Liu’s playful cascade of letters and symbols, suggesting a dialogue between elder and youth, the ancient and the contemporary.

“I’m not interested in creating a straightforward, clear-cut piece,” the artist says. “This work is better if people take the time to think about it. I’m just leaving the building blocks, it is for them to construct their own meaning.”

Come experience the installation for yourself and share your wonder on social media with #CollectedLetters.

Download our self-guided Contemporary Art audio tour to listen to artists and curators discuss contemporary works on view throughout the museum.

Organizers & Sponsors

Collected Letters is organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.