First opened in 1966 as a wing of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum, now in its own building, is currently one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian Art, housing a collection of over 17,000 artworks. It was also one of the most financially troubled museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian Art with a $120 million debt, which was recently announced would be solved, setting the museum up for a much needed reinvention: “Our new brand,” explains Jay Xu, Director of the Asian Art Museum “promises to awaken the past and inspire the next. It means we’ll unlock the past for visitors and bring it to life by sparking connections. We’ll also be a catalyst for new art, new creativity and new thinking.” To help turn things around, literally, the Asian Art Museum worked with Wolff Olins to design its new identity.
International brand consultancy Wolff Olins helped to redefine the brand and designed a new logo to directly reflect the museum’s bold vision and new perspective. Its graphic, upside down A mark, accompanied by the word “Asian,” also communicates the museum’s desire to engage all: in mathematics, an upside down A denotes “for all.”
— Press Release
The old logo was a little painful to watch, but it had good intentions and it sort of exuded Asian-ness with the red color and wispy type; it had an interesting play with the Asia/n structure, but mostly it was just a little weird. The new one, in contrast, exudes not a single bit of Asian-ness. On the contrary, it could probably be a logo for anything but an Asian museum and that seems to help the point the Asian Art Museum is trying to make, that they are not just a warehouse of old Asian clichés but a new kind of platform for Asian art and culture, both old and new. Obviously the biggest statement of the logo is the upside down “A”. The press release mentions that in mathematics the inverted “A” represents “for all” and I wonder how many people will know that — I didn’t, but I also use a calculator to sum two plus two sometimes. When I first saw the logo I tried to extract the meaning of the inverted “A” but other than a slightly corny “Think Different” I came up empty. It’s a bold move, and it has the advantage that there are no other upside down logos out there, so it certainly stands out.
Like any logo thick enough to hold imagery, this one holds artifacts from the collection. It looks good, but it’s far from new. Good thing the holding shape is upside down to give the trick a new spin. I do like the subtle gradient that gives the logo some dimension.
The rest of the materials are decent and support the direction of the logo. I like how the logo can be used big or small in different applications, showing a bit of versatility that, if lacking, would have made for a more stale range of applications. Overall, as a way of saying “this ain’t your ancestors Asian Art Museum” this identity certainly achieves its goal.