Photo Credit: Asian Art Museum
It's got a lovely building, the former main library across from City Hall, re-purposed and designed by Milanese architect Gae Aulenti. It has a spectacular collection, the core of which was formed by athlete and industrialist Avery Brundage early in the 20th century when the West was looting China, South Asia and Japan for artifacts; he was also the man who helped revive the Olympics as an international event. San Francisco owns the collection and the building, but what got out of hand was the Asian Art Museum Association, the fund-raising posse that is responsible for $120,000,000 in debt arising from the renovation and re-installation (the museum was once part of the now-demolished deYoung complex in Golden Gate Park.) They had refinanced their debt with JPMorgan optimistically a few years ago, and the bank recently threatened to force the Association into bankruptcy after fundraising efforts faltered. What followed were allegations of sharp dealing:
In a Nov. 30 letter to the bank, City Attorney Dennis Herrera suggested that the bank had given the museum foundation bad advice when it suggested restructuring the debt in 2005 and had "already reaped at least $13,000,000 from the foundation in fees and other charges? I hope that the various and repeated allegations of undisclosed conflicts of interests and self-dealing ... are not present here," Herrera wrote. "But given the various roles played by JPMorgan (with the museum), my office may need to learn more." The most recent agreement finalized this week as Gavin Newsom tidies up loose ends: San Francisco signs on to guarantee the debt, which the bank reduces to $100,000,000. The deal still needs various approvals from the Supes, the Asian Art Commission and the Association. Meanwhile, the market for Asian art has never been hotter- perhaps even approaching a "bubble"- as collectors, especially Chinese, repatriate their treasures. You can't help but wonder if tastefully sending a few redundant items to Sotheby's wouldn't do wonders for the bottom line.
· Asian Art Museum Deal Make City Liable For Debt [SFGate]
· Asian Art Museum [Asian Art Museum]
· Asian Art Commission [Asian Art Commission]
· Qing Dynasty Vase Smashes World Record [Archaeology News Network]