The Architect’s Newspaper: Kulapat Yantrasast on redesigning the Asian Art Museum for future generations
“Continuity is the kind of art exhibition that gets better with large crowds, mainly because it’s interactive. As visitors make their way through a maze-like darkroom, they are chased by motion-sensitive projections of crows, flower petals, and butterflies. Kanji symbols trickle down from ceilings that appear to rotate, transforming into flames and thunder when you touch them. Somewhere, a speaker plays what sounds like alpha waves, and the air faintly smells of rosewater.
Not only does Continuity mark Tokyo-based art collective teamLab’s first solo show in the United States, it’s also the first exhibition to be held at the Asian Art Museum’s Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, a newly constructed 8,500-square-foot gallery space in San Francisco designed by celebrated Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY. Yantrasast was asked to create a pavilion that would be able to house large, uninterrupted installations, and teamLab’s Continuity fit the end result like Cinderella’s foot in her glass slipper.
The main building that now houses the Asian Art Museum used to serve as a San Francisco public library, and though it was heavily renovated by the Italian architect Gae Aulenti in 2003, the skeletal blueprint never really changed. “There remain lots of skinny, fragmented corridors that were meant to store books, not art,” Yantrasast, listing some of the ‘acupuncture points’ he wanted to address in his design, explained over Zoom. There weren’t enough big, column-free spaces that allowed the artwork to breathe.
Another acupuncture point had to deal with interior design. For decades, the basic look and feel of museums and galleries rarely went beyond what Yantrasast called the “White Cube:” a space deliberately robbed of all personality so visitors can fully devote themselves to the art. Not fair, if you ask Kulapat. “Space has its own movement and character,” he professed. “It can never function as a perfectly neutral backdrop. Architecture holds power over other artforms, but it should be a generous kind of power.”…”
-Tim Brinkhof, The Architect’s Newspaper