This pair of foo dogs has been dated to the 19th century, but they weren't acquired by the Asian Art Museum until 2011. After a careful conservation period, they were installed outside the entrances in 2013. Both are nearly five feet tall and six feet long.
Placing pairs of guardian figures outside important buildings has a long history in many East Asian cultures. This pair is Japanese, and unlike Chinese guardians which typically face away from each other, the Japanese foo dogs are usually found facing one other. Since the Heian period (794-1185) the pairs included an open-mouthed lion and an imaginary, close-mouthed "lion dog" distinguished by having one horn.
The lion guards the Asian Art Museum from physical danger, and the lion-dog protects against the spiritual world's unseen threats.
"We certainly hope they'll capture people's imagination and become iconic and beloved symbols of the museum," the AAM's curator of Japanese art, Laura Allen told SF Weekly. "At the same time, we might change them from time to time with other sculpture, and then bring them back again."
These sculptures somehow avoided the Japanese government's mandatory metal collections before World War II. They were been donated to the museum by Marsha Vargas Handley in memory of her husband, Raymond G. Handley.
200 Larkin Street at McAllister in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaze