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Asian Art Museum opens San Francisco’s largest outdoor art terrace

Dominic Ng, chairman and CEO of East West Bank, speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the East West Bank Art Terrace at the Asian Art Museum. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

The Asian Art Museum opened its sprawling East West Bank Art Terrace with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, marking the end of a long and arduous process that has become the subject of a lawsuit. 

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long time,” said Dominic Ng, chairman and CEO of East West Bank, at the ceremony. 

The 7,500-square-foot terrace was supposed to be completed back in 2020, but the museum maintains that faulty construction led to delays that stymied the $38 million project. Now, it’s suing the New York-based firm that designed and built the rooftop terrace and pavilion. 

On Sept. 25, the Asian Art Museum Foundation said it began the process of filing a cross-complaint in San Francisco Superior Court against Why Architecture, saying the firm’s construction as delivered leaked in multiple places and the rooftop terrace was unusable. 

“It was delivered late, and as originally constructed, it failed to meet even the minimum museum-quality standards,” said the museum in a press release. The museum is seeking to recoup an unspecified amount of money it says it spent to correct the faulty installation. 

The latest legal salvo follows a lawsuit filed by Swinerton Builders, the project’s general contractor, against the Asian Art Museum in 2021. The museum says it’s “trapped in the middle” of the dispute between the two firms, both of which blame the other for the extra costs. 

Legal challenges notwithstanding, spectators can now enjoy the open-air terrace as a multipurpose venue that includes space for performances, art installations and dining from Vietnamese-inspired food vendor Asian Box. 

The terrace’s first exhibition includes three contemporary artists: a bright pink neon installation forged by Neon Works called “Taotie” by Chinese multimedia artist Kongkee from the museum’s highly successful Warring States Cyberpunk exhibition, a sculpture titled “Breast Stupa Topiary” by Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak and a star-spangled galaxy installation made of over 1,000 ceramic tiles called “Luminous Ground” by Berkeley-born artist Ala Ebtekar. 

The piece "Luminous Ground" by Berkeley-born Ala Ebtekar is composed of 1,000 ceramic tiles. | Source: Courtesy Asian Art Museum

The terrace will also serve as a place for visiting students to eat lunch, said Zac Rose, associate director of communications at the museum. The Asian Art Museum hosts some 30,000 schoolchildren a year for field trips. 

The delay of the terrace’s opening did have one advantage—the additional years of construction meant the 2023 opening coincides with the 50th anniversary of the East West Bank, which donated $5 million to the 7,500-square-foot rooftop art gallery.

East West Bank opened in 1973 to help Asian immigrants who struggled to get loans from traditional bank loans, and it’s now the second-largest bank headquartered in California. 

At Monday’s ceremony, museum Director and CEO Jay Xu touted the project’s completion in the context of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to be held in San Francisco in November. APEC is expected to bring some 21 heads of state and thousands of foreign journalists and pour an estimated $57 million into the city’s economy. 

“APEC is our chance to showcase to the entire world we’re the best city on the face of the earth,” said Xu. 

Mayor London Breed, who was also present at the ceremony, said the opening of the museum’s long-awaited expansion project and the conference are symbols of the city’s renaissance. 

“People are starting to feel the joy in the city,” Breed said. “It’s time for us to show the world who San Francisco is.” 

Julie Zigoris can be reached at