THE improbable Chinese-style building in Pasadena that has housed the Pacific Asia Museum for the last 35 years has always been a work in progress. It was built in 1924 as the residence and place of business for Grace Nicholson, a collector and dealer of Asian art, and outfitted with imported carvings and roof tiles.
At her death, in 1944, it became the home of the Pasadena Art Museum, which evolved into the Norton Simon Museum. Since 1971, the Pacific Asia Museum has used the complex of galleries around the central courtyard to present a colorful and educational parade of temporary exhibitions and installations from the permanent collection.
Now there's a sign that more changes are on the way. The latest addition -- and an early indicator of a long-range plan to upgrade the museum's exhibition spaces -- is a gallery devoted to Japanese art. Furnished with a traditional alcove display space, or tokonoma, and a 15th century Buddhist temple ceiling, the 498-square-foot gallery will offer rotating thematic exhibitions from the museum's 4,000-piece store of Japanese art.
The first show, "Splendor and Simplicity: An Introduction to Japanese Artistic Style," will open Friday. Conceived to acquaint visitors with aesthetic principles of Japanese art and to dispense with inaccurate stereotypes, the show will explore various styles in objects as simple as an unadorned ceramic tea bowl and as complex as an elaborately decorated silk kimono.
To celebrate the gallery's debut, the museum will host a monthlong Festival of Japanese Art and Style, offering a variety of encounters with cultural traditions and art forms. The first event, at 2 p.m. Saturday, is a curator's tour of the new gallery. A session about Japanese food and drink will be presented at 7 p.m. Sept. 15. Other programs will include film screenings and workshops in flower arranging and kite making.