What in the world is the International Art Museum in San Francisco?
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
After visiting the amazing world-renowned Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, we walked by another museum. Since I was in a museum mood and the venue was touting free admission, we impulsively entered. What was the International Art Museum of America? Should I have heard of this place? It was in the middle of a busy shopping district, so this had to be high rent.
Passing the guard and entering the lobby, it felt like we’d stepped into an abandoned movie set or amusement park. There were gardens and pools and painted backdrops and a tiny desk where the attendant sat. She asked us where we were from and told us we could wander freely, but there was absolutely no photography.
We headed up the stairs which featured a bust of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. (I borrowed this photo as I was being a rule follower and did not take a picture within the art section of the museum).
Traditional Chinese calligraphy and ink painting and more contemporary Chinese art followed. That is when I started to notice that the majority of the art was by Mr. Chang. Was this whole museum just a rich person’s folly to display his own art? Because we were forbidden to take photos, I was afraid to capture some of the odd sculptural items, many of which looked like extruded intestines (supposed to represent coral). Then we found the door to the Treasure Room, which was locked, but had a paper sign taped up to tell us you could not go in. The museum’s website says the room is only opened four times a year and it takes a $60 ticket for entry. We joked that the Treasure Room was where they put you in “jail” if you took photos in this strange place.
There are beautiful pieces of art in this museum, but the captions were unbelievable and pompous. As you walk through rooms of Chinese art, you are abruptly suddenly viewing 17th Century European art and then, why not throw in some lenticular oddities by Mr. Chang, things that you might have expected to see at a roadside stand with velvet paintings? And each description is odder than the next.
I still can’t figure out what this place really is. Mr. Chang claims he is the third coming of Buddha, but it’s a claim not universally accepted. He’s wanted in China for fraud, yet he has followers and apparently art buying fans. He lives in Pasadena and according to one website, has apparently the secret to aging backwards (I think it’s Photoshop, but if it isn’t, he should be selling anti-aging face cream).
The best article I could find about this odd place was on SF MOMA’s website.
Curiosity killed the cat as they say, and by the time we’d seen half the museum, I felt the need to get out fast.
International Art Museum, 1025 Market Street, San Francisco
(you should go to the Asian Art Museum)