Christina Yu Yu is on a mission of intercultural exchange, and she’s running it from a 1924 Qing Dynasty-style mansion in downtown Pasadena, California. The director of the USC Pacific Asia Museum knows that her museum may be small in size, but its influence is anything but.
“With our unique space, our priority is being impactful,” Yu says of the building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “We want to offer visitors a focused, engaged and intimate experience.”
Museum-goers this year can look forward to live music, family cultural events, collaborations with USC scholars and summer Fusion Friday parties. But the museum’s permanent 17,000-item collection may be its biggest selling point. Yu, former Chinese art assistant curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, sees a wealth of enlightening pieces among the museum’s holdings. Here are a few of her favorites—all gifts from generous collectors.
Salon de Beauté China, 1985
Oil on canvas
In 1987, the USC Pacific Asia Museum hosted the first-ever American exhibition of Chinese modern art, which was little known at the time. This painting by Geng Jianyi helped introduce the world to the burgeoning Chinese “First Wave” movement, which emerged with the increase in artistic and intellectual freedom in the 1980s.
Yu: “I always remembered this bold painting from the 1987 exhibition catalog. I had never seen it in real life until I came here for my job interview. I came across the piece in the basement and I flipped! I couldn’t believe it. I never knew who had it—and here it was.”
Bodhisattva Tibet, circa 1300
Silver with gilding and precious stone inlay
Made with exceptional detailing, this bodhisattva figure has remnants of lapis lazuli pigment, gilding and precious stone inlay that traces the original splendor of the piece.
Yu: “This has such intricacy of detail, from the eyes and lips to each necklace bead and finger. It’s complete and intact centuries later. This is an excellent representation for the time period and religion—a great educational piece.”
Porcelain plate China, Yuan/Ming Dynasty (late 1400s)
Porcelain, cobalt-oxide lead underglaze
Filled with symbolism, this dish brings wishes of good fortune: The qilin, a mythic, horse-like creature, is an omen of longevity and grandeur, and the circle of peony blossoms represents prosperity and honorability.
Yu: “We have many ceramics, but this is my favorite. It shows the blending of two worlds—Chinese artisans used a blue cobalt color that would have come from Persia, and the outermost ring also shows a Persian artistic influence with the floral motif.”
Mt. Fuji in Clear Weather Japan, Edo Period (circa 1830)
Woodblock print on paper
Legend has it that Japan’s Mt. Fuji takes on a red hue around sunset under particular weather conditions. Renowned artist Katsushika Hokusai’s bold, vibrant woodblock captures the beauty of the unusual occurrence.
Yu: “This rare, early-stage print is from one of Hokusai’s original carved blocks. To make this print, each color had its own block, so behind its simplicity is masterful technique. The exuberant colors, crisp lines and excellent condition make it highly prized.”
Photos courtesy of USC Pacific Asia Museum.