Remembering Two Great Champions of Asian Art in the United States

Jan Fontein (center) examines a painting with Marshall Bouton (left) and another attendee at Asia Society, New York’s 2000 opening of “Dancing Demons: Ceremonial Masks of Mongolia.” (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

Last month the field of Asian art suffered the loss of two great champions of Asian art in the United States. Jesse Randolph Castile III (1938–2017), known as “Rand,” was the founding director of Japan House Gallery at Japan Society, New York, in 1971. Mr. Castile then became the director of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, where like at the Japan Society, he organized ground-breaking exhibitions and public programs. From exhibitions on Rimpa painters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Tokugawa-period armor, Indonesian sculpture, and the sacred art of Tibet, to events featuring Sumo wrestlers and Tuvan throat singers, he broadened Americans’ understanding of Asian arts. Rand Castile was a valued advisor to several of Asia Society Museum’s projects on Japan.

Jan Fontein (1927–2017) was born in the Netherlands, where he studied Asian languages and Indonesian archaeology and art history, and became curator at the Museum of Asiatic Art/Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In 1966 Dr. Fontein became curator of Asian art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he then served as director from 1975 to 1987. Dr. Fontein was a prolific scholar and curator, organizing exhibitions and publishing on Javanese, Thai, Mongolian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art. He was a visiting professor at institutions ranging from New York University to Heidelberg University, and served on numerous boards in the United States and abroad, including as an advisor to the Asia Society Galleries.

Dr. Fontein’s deep knowledge of Asian art, culture, and history is reflected in his many publications that include books and catalogues such as Zen Painting and Calligraphy; Unearthing China’s Past; The Sculpture of Indonesia; and The Dancing Demons of Mongolia, which accompanied the exhibition held at Asia Society. Dr. Fontein’s honors included Commander in the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Government of Japan; and Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau, appointed by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Boon Hui Tan
Vice President of Global Arts & Cultural Programs and Director of Asia Society Museum