“AD PRO: How did your involvement with the Asian Art Museum come about?
Kulapat Yantrasast: We actually began the project about two and a half years ago. They saw the work I had done before, including work for the Art Institute of Chicago when Jay Xu, the director of the Asian Art Museum, was one of the department heads. I also did a full-scale interior art installation at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge. There are a lot of people who just do interiors and others who just do “the box,” but not a lot of people like me who do both.
AD PRO: How did the existing Beaux-Arts elements of the building inspire you?
KY: I tend to work more and more on historic buildings, and the building itself informed a lot of the design. And really, this is one of the most historic buildings in San Francisco’s Civic Center area—which is one of the most important, intact civic centers in the country—perhaps more so than New York or Chicago, and certainly more so than Los Angeles. You have City Hall, the War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, Bill Graham Auditorium…so there are a lot of expectations, and we can’t do just anything. We have to think about how to respect the gravitas of the area and the proportions of the building itself.
AD PRO: The project is being referred to as the “Transformation.” Why?
KY: It’s a very complex project. When we first started we didn’t plan on making any additions. We were really just focusing on the galleries and the [eventual] reinstallation of all of the artworks—basically a complete transformation from within. While looking at the collections and trying to make sense of it all, we quickly realized it was so very full and so very dense. The first step, at that point, was to consider the contrast between the space and masterpieces and other objects. It’s really a collection full of masterpieces—I still get goose bumps every time I walk through the museum.