Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Asian Art Museum 1: Upside Down Rebranding
A press and photo scrum was invited to the Asian Art Museum on Tuesday morning...
...along with a full roster of local dignitaries that included SF Chief of Protocol Charlotte Schultz (standing above), the three Asian-American San Francisco Supervisors (Chu, Mar, and Chiu), and the Asian-American San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee.
The event was the unveiling of a new rebranding initiative for the institution, and Museum Director Jay Xu gave a speech filled with a lot of marketing buzzwords to the accompaniment of a very plain, ugly PowerPoint presentation.
The moment finally arrived for the literal unveiling of the new logo that represents the "Asian For All" theme that is being newly embraced, with Jay Xu and Edwin Lee doing the honors (above).
The logo was fairly ghastly, an upside down A with the word "Asian" floating somewhere to its right, designed by the London branding company Wolff Olins.
This was the same company that was responsible for the almost universally loathed logo for next year's Olympics in London (above).
Nick O'Flaherty, the Strategy Director for Wolff Olins was in attendance, and told us that the upside down A symbolized "ALL" in mathematics, which seemed to be news to everyone in the room except for the people who had approved the design.
The real question is why the Asian Art Museum decided to hire a London firm for close to half a million dollars in the first place. The San Francisco Bay Area probably has as many great graphic designers per capita as any comparable spot on the globe, and there are even quite a few who are Asian-Americans who understand Pacific Rim cultures in a way that Wolff Olins is not going to be even close to mastering.
On a sheerly practical level, the logo looks like hell to work with. "Why are there different spaces on the various collateral pieces between the upside down A and Asian?" I asked a few museum employees, and the consensus seemed to be that having Asian too close to the upside down A which looks like a V makes it look like "Vasian," which could be extrapolated into (Asian) Invasion, not a happy branding message.
Mayor Lee gave a speech at one point and said, "Charlotte and I have discussed how important the museum is for our local economy and its international visitors. Soon there is going to be a huge show about Bali." Nobody corrected Mayor Lee, but just about everyone in the room knew that the Bali exhibit had come and gone over the last six months, and had just been shipped out in anticipation of a new show devoted to East Indian Royalty.
The whole exercise was sad, because the Asian Art Museum deserves to draw more visitors. Their special exhibits are hit and miss, but often spectacular, and the rotating permanent collection is probably the best of any museum in the Bay Area. Do consider becoming a member in spite of the silly new logo.