When Jay Xu *08 took over as director of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum in 2008, the institution was planning an exhibition that would prove to be very personal for him. Shanghai, which runs through Sept. 5, is about his hometown.
The first Chinese-American to serve as a director of an art museum in the United States, Xu grew up during the Cultural Revolution. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that in China he was not allowed to study physics, as he wanted, and instead studied Chinese language and literature. Eventually he became an assistant curator at Shanghai Museum and later enrolled in Princeton’s doctoral program in Chinese art and archaeology.
A scholar of Chinese antiquities, Xu “belies the stereotype of a museum director — he’s chatty and ebullient. And he seems to have a wicked sense of humor,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.
The Shanghai exhibition, with more than 130 artworks, is organized into four sections that provide an overview of the major cultural and historical developments in Shanghai since 1850. Xu told the San Francisco Chronicle that even he learned something about his hometown through the exhibition: “Just because you are a native of Shanghai, that doesn’t make you an expert. I’m a specialist in ancient China, so I learned a lot I didn’t know.”
(Photo courtesy Jay Xu *08)
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