SAN FRANCISCO: A bust of former Olympic president Avery Brundage has been removed from public view by San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum because of the legacy of his increasingly controversial opinions.
Brundage was the museum’s founding patron and has greeted visitors in the entrance hall for almost 50 years. The fifth president of the International Olympic Committee established the museum to house his eight-thousand-work collection in 1966.
However Brundage, who died in 1975, opposed proposals in the United States for a boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and supported the America First movement which opposed entry into the second world war.
His IOC reign, from 1952 to 1972, also featured the expulsion of US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Games after their black power salutes during a medal ceremony.
Brundage was a fierce adherent to Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin’s opposition to professionalism yet president over an era in which a major competitive role was taken by the ‘state amateurs’ of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.
The New York Times quoted museum director Jay Xu as having said that the museum had not been fully aware of some of Brundage’s views until 2016, when the staff was preparing a 50th-anniversary event.
In a June 4 letter to the public in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minnesota police, Xu wrote that Brundage “espoused racist and anti-Semitic views,” and that the institution “must contend with the very history of how our museum came to be.”
Six days later the board decided to move the bust into storage.
Brundage’s interest in Asian art stemmed from a visit to an exhibition of Chinese art at the Royal Academy in London in early 1936, after the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen – which, coincidentally, later became his home and where he died in 1975.