Asian Art Museum Case Study

Behind every gorgeous, glossy surface of Japanese lacquerware are talented artists who have mastered a painstaking creative process. 

Through a selection of exquisite objects, Japanese Lacquerware reveals the many techniques and applications developed by artisans over hundreds of years. With a focus on work created during the 17th through 20th centuries, the 19 objects include a kimono screen, incense containers, traveling chest and picnic set.

Text and film footage describe the challenges of lacquer production — from extracting sap to decorating with gold and silver powder. Find out about the toxic liquid used to make lacquer (extracted from a tree related to poison oak), as well as the regimented, climate-sensitive steps involved in its creation.

As you'll learn, completing even a plain lacquered surface with only simple decorations is a lengthy, tedious and often precarious process, since any mistake can ruin an entire piece. Producing meticulously embellished works like those on view in Japanese Lacquerware requires the highest level of craftsmanship.

Love lacquer? Be sure to check out our presentation of Chinese lacquerware, on view now, and our upcoming exhibition Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea, opening in April.

Read even more in our 2008 publication The Conservation of Asian Lacquer: Case Studies at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.Download...

Asian Art Museum Case Study


The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the largest and most respected museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art - but for years it remained one of San Francisco's best kept secrets. Despite being positioned as a geographic and cultural authority on Asian art and culture in the US, the museum still struggled to capture awareness and fully connect with visitors. In 2009, however, they appointed a new director with a ground- breaking vision and revitalized ambition to become the world's most dynamic Asian art and cultural museum.


In early 2010, Wolff Olins partnered with the Asian Art Museum to create a new brand strategy and identity. Through extensive interviews and research, we uncovered what visitors needed and how the museum was best placed to deliver. We challenged staff and board members to fundamentally shift their perspective - from thinking of the museum as a home for ancient objects to a thought- provoking experience. Using the brand strategy as a foundation, we created a provocative new brand identity for the museum. The new logo, an upside down "A," signifies their commitment to offer a fresh and creative perspective on a collection spanning 6,000 years. As the mathematical symbol "for all," the logo also tells the world that the museum has something to say and something to show.


The Asian Art Museum officially debuted the brand identity with the launch of their exhibition Maharaja in October 2011. The brand strategy reinvigorated staff and board members with a renewed sense of purpose. It also helped them begin to transform their visitor experience and rethink the content and design of their exhibitions, programs and communications.

In 2013 they set a new record for themselves when the opening weekend attendance at their China's Terracotta Warriors exhibit exceeded historical numbers by over 60%. With their 50th anniversary approaching in 2016 the museum shows no signs of slowing down.

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