In the Moment Japanese Art Collection From Larry Ellison Now Unveiled at SF’s Asian Art Museum


2013 06 29 20 06 46

Today’s generation of rich techies isn’t known for having much interest in anything outside of their narrow world of tech. But that’s not true for the older generation. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, is well known for his interest in Japanese art and culture.

Now you can see 64 pieces from his collection in a new exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art museum called, “In the moment.

Examples such as Mr. Ellison’s charming cat painting from his collection (above), suggests a sensitive side to this self-assured billionaire and his lifestyle of dangerously fast sailboat racing combined with high finance and consistently excellent M&A execution that has built up Oracle into a giant in very lucrative enterprise IT markets.

He’s Silicon Valley’s most successful CEO in terms of his long leadership and the shareholder value he’s created over a long career. Interestingly, Oracle’s start was from contract work for the CIA.

Art critics have been very impressed with the art collection, describing it as one of the finest in the US. Robert Taylor, writing in the San Jose Mercury, said that Mr. Ellison “has taste as well as money.”

This is not a billionaire’s pretentious display of the art he’s purchased. It’s a superb introduction to Japanese art spanning 1,000 years…

Maybe this will encourage the 40 year old generation of successful techies in and around Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Twitter, even Sand Hill Road, start collecting art, or get involved as patrons of the arts in some ways.

I’d love to see what type of art Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin would choose to collect. I’m guessing there would be a Lichtenstein and a Damien Hirst or three. Marc Benioff at should start an art collection, too, and lend part of it out to local museums. It’s a win-win for these global brands and their local communities.

According to and excerpted from the Mercury News:

The first gallery contains what Sano described as “some of his favorite objects.” Among them, a charming wood sculpture from the 1200s of two puppies at play and a pair of screens, one depicting a rooster and chicks, the other a quintet of puppies gathered underneath a banana plant. “Mr. Ellison fell in love with this pair,” Sano said, “particularly the puppies.”

To balance things out, there’s also an ink painting of a cat, probably made by a Buddhist monk in the 1400s of a pet that lived in his temple.

Ellison’s collection is nothing if it’s not accessible. On screens and scrolls, in bronze castings and wood carvings there’s a menagerie that may give this exhibit unusual family appeal. There are deer, an elephant, cranes, turtles, an egret, and a crow scowling at a flamboyant peacock.

A pair of tigers painted on hanging scrolls by Maruyama Okyo in 1779 shows depth and naturalism new at the time in Japanese art. One also looks very hungry as it stares at the viewer. Even more spectacular on a pair of screens are an almost photographic tiger and a fierce, more stylized dragon facing off. They’re another work by Okyo from the 1700s.

The exhibit’s third, concluding gallery compares three schools of Japanese paintings: Kano painters, who worked for military rulers and favored battle scenes; Rinpa painters, who worked for the court and emphasized seasonal plants; and Kyoto-based artists, who favored birds and animals.

Among the standouts are a screen depicting maize and cockscomb blowing realistically in the wind and an intricately detailed panorama of Tartars hunting and playing polo. There are also battle scenes, plus a full-size set of Samurai body armor and astonishing iron helmets, one of them looking like an extended, pointed swallowtail.


The exhibition explores the dynamic nature of art selection and display in traditional Japanese settings, where artworks are often temporarily presented in response to a special occasion or to reflect the change of seasons. In the Moment also considers Mr. Ellison’s active involvement in displaying art in his Japanese-style home, shedding light on his appreciation for Japan’s art and culture.

Included in the exhibition are significant works by noted artists of the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods along with other important examples of religious art, lacquer, woodwork, and metalwork. Highlights include a 13th–14th century wooden sculpture of Shotoku Taishi; six-panel folding screens dating to the 17th century by Kano Sansetsu; and 18th century paintings by acclaimed masters Maruyama Okyo and Ito Jakuchu.

“This exhibition offers a rare glimpse of an extraordinary collection,” said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “We aim to present it in a fresh and original way that explores traditional Japanese principles governing the relationship of art to our surroundings and social relationships.”

Through: Sept. 22
Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, until 9 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $8-$12; $5 Thursday after 5 p.m. 415-581-3500,

Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
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