January 10, 2024, San Francisco — In an exciting first for the museum world, Cheng Xu has joined the Asian Art Museum as Assistant Curator for Games and Technology. Her appointment is part of a growing contemporary curatorial team and the museum’s expanded efforts to showcase the cultural contributions of Asian and Asian American artists, creators, and change-makers across diverse disciplines and fields of expertise. While fine arts museums have presented games and other digital technology within design and media exhibitions, the Asian Art Museum is unique in investing in a full curatorial position devoted to connecting trends in hardware and software — as well as virtual social experiences — to artistic traditions and active creative communities.
“Cheng’s ability to navigate the intersection of art and technology is vital at a moment when anyone with a smartphone has a limitless capacity to make art — and to engage meaningfully with this ever-expanding virtual realm — at their fingertips,” says Jay Xu (no relation), the Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “It is imperative for museums to recognize and make space for artists creating in new ways, with new tools, and through new mediums. Online gaming is one of the most popular social activities in the world; Cheng’s work makes it possible for the Asian Art Museum’s audiences to understand more about the power of this and other technologies we live with now, how they relate to the present, and how they can help us envision the future, together.”
Born in Wuhan, China, Cheng is a graduate of Tsinghua University in Beijing and holds a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Yale and a master’s degree in Tangible Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon. Her first curatorial project will debut on January 18 with the opening of RAD, a gallery-based Research And Development laboratory for engineers, designers, and other leaders of the game and technology to prototype interaction for a major new immersive exhibition from visionary game artist Jenova Chen, coming to the Asian Art Museum in 2025.
RAD marks Cheng’s curatorial debut for the Asian Art Museum, but not the first time that she has worked with the museum. In 2016, as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, Cheng developed the project Vote With Your Feet, an interactive installation in which crowd-sourced questions were displayed across the top of two doorways; walking through one doorway or the other constituted a vote, the results of which were displayed in real time online. The project was relocated to the front of the Asian Art Museum where it caught the attention of Abby Chen, who later joined the museum as Senior Curator and Head of Contemporary Art.
“It is so exciting to have Cheng at the Asian Art Museum and to be on the forefront of games as art and the art of gaming,” says Chen. “Vote With Your Feet illustrated how technology and curiosity can lead to moments of self-expression not just for artists, but for viewers or participants, which reflects what Cheng brings to all of her work: an emphasis on community and inclusivity. Her voice will bring a more self-reflective and empathetic lens to the museum’s engagement with technology, and hopefully foster a sense of connection between artist and audience in what might otherwise be a cold and mechanical encounter.”
Likewise, Cheng hopes that her work at the museum will create a new access point for viewers to enter the art world. “This is an opportunity both to build community and to expand who the museum is for by offering experiences for those who might not consider themselves the typical museumgoer,” says Cheng. “Art isn’t something that should be bestowed upon people. Art should invite critique, participation, and connection. As technology becomes more ingrained in nearly every part of our lives, art can become as accessible and familiar as a favorite digital game. By using new technologies in creative ways, I hope to start an ongoing conversation about what constitutes art and who is considered an artist.”
Cheng was recently celebrated for her C/Change projects awarded by Goethe-Institut San Francisco and Gray Area, funded by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. As part of the prestigious C/Change’s second Creative R&D Lab cycle, Cheng was one of five finalists whose projects contribute to the mechanics and aspirations of digital cultural exchange, envisioning everything from explicitly feminist technologies to planetary futures and a “digital democracy” that equalizes access and inclusion.
In addition to her curatorial work, Cheng is herself an artist. She has served as artist in residence for Autodesk and Working Group Resident at Stochastic Labs.
Games and Technology Exhibitions and Programs
Catalyzing cross-disciplinary dialogue and encouraging discovery by new audiences, Cheng’s exhibition RAD doubles as a venue for monthly public programs showcasing the limitless creativity of the Bay Area’s art/tech community through an eclectic series of performances and presentations.
The first RAD public program occurs 6–7:30 PM on Jan. 18 — an improvised, site-specific, audio-visual performance by the quartet FAULTS incorporating electronics, acoustic instruments, field recordings, and guqin, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, followed by a meditative, ambient sound bath. Space for this intimate performance is limited; guests will be admitted on a first come, first served basis.
About The Asian Art Museum
Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art, with more than 20,000 awe-inspiring artworks ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations. Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations, and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future.