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Chinese Archaeology Comes Alive through Interactive, Sensory Experience at Asian Art Museum

San Francisco, March 1 — Deep beneath our own world, a Chinese legend tells of a villager who discovers a forgotten realm of riches and beauty, endless feasts, entertainment and music, a realm entered through a mysterious crack in a hillside, a crack which can never be found twice… until now.

As in the legend, Phoenix Kingdoms: the Last Splendors of China’s Bronze Age beckons audiences in through a jagged, gallery-spanning portal, on the other side of which a realm of treasures from a lost civilization awaits. On view exclusively at the Asian Art Museum April 19 – July 22, 2024, Phoenix Kingdoms showcases more than 150 works from China’s most important new archaeological discoveries in exciting new ways that activate the senses, invite interaction, and put visitors at the center of the story.

At the heart of the exhibition is the mythical phoenix, worshipped by people of southern frontiers of the Zhou dynasty that flourished nearly 3,000 years ago. Revived here through digital projections that respond to visitors’ presence, totemic avatars guide us through the exhibition, appearing and disappearing, vanishing and —as with the phoenix — being reborn or rejuvenating in a new location, inviting continuous movement and sense of encounter.

Echoing voices in English and Chinese introduce digital displays of excavation photos and archival materials and throughout the exhibition spaces evocative sounds remind visitors of the otherworldly nature of some of the ritual elements recently unearthed: bronze bells and lacquer drums, libation vessels and luxurious lacquerwares, plus luminous jades and elaborate textiles for burials and offerings.

“Like the phoenix, the past is never gone, but comes alive again through these interactive and subtly immersive theatrical experiences, seamlessly infused with technology,” says Garance Marneur, the museum’s first-ever director of experience design. “This pioneering endeavor aims to unveil hidden layers of storytelling, creating an unparalleled tapestry of exploration and surprise. This means the Asian Art Museum is inviting visitors to transcend the ordinary and immerse themselves in a sensory odyssey. To journey from the darkness of the cave-like crack to the lightness of a phoenix is to undergo a profound transformation, leaving one uplifted and activated with curiosity and wonder — that’s the thrill of discovery we want to convey.”


Additional major exhibition elements include:

  • Dozens of Chinese national treasures which are on public display for the first time ever.
  • Rare luxury wares and textiles that were previously too fragile to be excavated, but which can now be shared with audiences thanks to distinctive environments and scientific advances.
  • Thematic galleries that guide visitors through the facets of aristocratic life and afterlife beliefs in Bronze-Age China, from shamanistic rituals, to the rigors of warfare, to the technologically splendid devices, like wine coolers and incense burners, that continue to delight our senses and inspire our imaginations thousands of years later.


Exhibition Organization

Phoenix Kingdoms: the Last Splendor of China’s Bronze Age is organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Hubei Provincial Museum. Presentation is made possible with the generous support of American Friends of the Shanghai Museum, Barbara Bass Bakar, Huifen Chan and Roelof Botha, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen, Harry and Sandra Cheung, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Fred Eychaner, Ken Lamb, The Tan Family Education Foundation, the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund, Diane B. Wilsey, and Richard and Fukan Yen. Additional support is provided by The Ellen Bayard Wheedon Foundation, Buck Gee and Mary Hackenbracht, HSBC Bank USA, and Angela and Gwong-Yih Lee. This exhibition is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sustained support generously provided by the following endowed funds: 

Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Endowment Fund for Exhibitions 

John and Sherry Chen Endowed Fund 

Arlene Schnitzer Endowed Fund 

James M. Gerstley Fund for International Exhibitions 


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.

Information: 415.581.3500 or