Inside the superb: SFMOMA

 

The newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Credit Henrik Kam/Sfmoma

SAN FRANCISCO — Inside the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of the most startling sights is the absence of works on the towering walls flanking the main zigzagging staircase.

The blank walls are awaiting the arrival of a pair of paintings next year by Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist. “She’s working on the commission,” said Gary Garrels, a senior curator, climbing stairs with the ease of someone who has given many museum tours. “The paintings are so large that she has to use an old church in Harlem as her studio.”

When the museum officially reopens on May 14, after a three-year closing, a $305 million addition by the architecture firm Snohetta and a campaign that elicited some 3,000 works of art from donors, it will have bragging rights on many fronts.

Spanning a full city block at its widest, with a dynamic white structure that resembles a cruise ship, the museum will be the largest in the Bay Area. It will have more exhibition space dedicated to photography than the Getty in Los Angeles, and more gallery space than the current Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

It will also have extraordinary concentrations of 20th-century art: Calder mobiles, Warhol silk-screens, Richter paintings and LeWitt wall drawings across three floors, thanks to a 100-year loan by the Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher that necessitated the expansion.

But curators at the museum, who don’t want it to be seen as the Fisher Museum of Modern Art, are already working hard behind the scenes to bring the museum into the 21st century, with major commissions like Ms. Mehretu’s, as well as lesser-known discoveries. They are seeking to bring a visual and cultural diversity to the museum that the Fisher collection, rooted in blue-chip work of the white male art world of 1960s America and Germany, is lacking.

“S.F. MoMA has always had a commitment to the emerging, the experimental and the new, but that has waxed and waned over the decades,” Mr. Garrels said. “It’s more important than ever that we strongly commit to being engaged with contemporary art in its global dynamics.”

“Global contemporary” is a buzz phrase heard in museum board rooms throughout the country. “It will be interesting to see: What’s going to set them apart from every other museum in every other city that has contemporary ambitions?” said Ian Berry, who runs the Tang museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and was an early visitor to the Snohetta building. (He called it “a great achievement.”)

Among the contemporary initiatives underway are film programs, community-driven projects and residencies for performance artists. The museum’s director, Neal Benezra, plans to hire a curator this fall to focus solely on contemporary art “across all collecting categories,” shaking up departments long organized by medium: photography, media arts, architecture and design, and — Mr. Garrels’s area — painting and sculpture.

Mr. Benezra has earmarked one large lobby for new art, once the Fishers’ 214-ton Richard Serra sculpture is removed in a couple of years. “It will be like our version of Turbine Hall,” he said, referring to the Tate Modern’s vast and enormously flexible space.

Elsewhere in the building, signs of the museum’s commitment to the hyper-contemporary and geopolitically diverse are already visible. A project room on the fourth floor has a new Bauhaus-inspired installation by the Berlin-based Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes, while the seventh floor (the top floor for visitors) has a survey of recent donations: major pieces by Ai Weiwei, Mark Bradford and Mark Grotjahn, as well as some less predictable choices.

One surprise is Brad Kahlhamer’s 2014 hanging wire sculpture “Super Catcher,” which looks like dream catchers caught in an archaic fisherman’s net, studded with small bells. “The rattling makes me think of native dance rituals,” said Mr. Garrels, who placed the work in a new gallery exploring “issues of cultural identity.”

Another standout is a vibrantly patterned and painted collage, by the Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby, that depicts her own cross-cultural wedding. She kneels in traditional African dress and offers her American husband, who wears jeans, the ritualistic palm wine. “We bought it straight from her show at the Studio Museum, before she even had a gallery,” Mr. Garrels said.

Katie Paige, a trustee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (and whose father, Charles Schwab, is board chairman), has started a contemporary-art support group to organize studio visits with artists, trips to biennials and fairs. It’s meant for new collectors, including the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors whom everyone in cultural philanthropy seems to be chasing, with little success.

The guests at the first event, a March conversation between Mr. Garrels and the artist Carol Bove at Ms. Paige’s home, included the Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger; his wife, Kaitlyn Trigger; and the venture capitalist Anthony Schiller, who works with the longtime museum patron Dick Kramlich.

“Maybe we can’t compete with L.A. or New York in terms of the depth of museums or galleries or community of artists,” Ms. Paige said. “But we certainly compete very strongly on the collectors’ end. And this group is a way for the museum to reach a new generation, a younger donor base.”

A long-running group affiliated with the museum supports Bay Area emerging artists; this newer one has a more global focus, in line with the curators’ expanding interests.

“I think their big challenge,” said Mr. Berry, the Tang Museum director, “is to be attentive to their local audience and community of artists while simultaneously finding the time and resources and energy to get out and see as much as they can in the larger world of art making.”

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THE GUARDIAN LONDON

SFMOMA’s reopening: a ‘game-changer for San Francisco’ – and contemporary art

With its newly acquired collection of Richters and Warhols and a multi-million dollar renovation, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is aiming to join the top rank of galleries. Ahead of its reopening, Paul Laity takes a tour

Grand entrance … Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006), in the Roberts Family Gallery at at SFMOMA.
Grand entrance … Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006), in the Roberts Family Gallery at at SFMOMA. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

For years, workers at the San Francisco HQ of the clothing chain Gap walked past an enormous piece of fruit. At the entrance to the company cafeteria sat the 8ft-high Geometric Apple Core by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen – the “Gapple”, a classic of contemporary art. Though held in great affection, however, the sculpture was, in those offices, rather commonplace. Art was everywhere, including a 1963 silver Triple Elvis by Andy Warhol, a roomful of monumental Chuck Close portraits and an array of dazzling Ellsworth Kelly abstracts.

Gap’s founders, Donald and Doris Fisher, used their millions from the 1970s onwards to amass 1,100 works of prestigious mid and late 20th-century art – including 21 Warhols, 23 works by Gerhard Richter and 45 Alexander Calder mobiles. It was recognised in art circles as a hugely significant collection, but, outside their firm, was kept largely under wraps.

All that changed in 2009 when, just two days before Don died, a longstanding agreement (unusual in the art world) was reached to show the collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for at least 100 years. It was a momentous occasion for SFMOMA, which began to plan a major expansion to accommodate the new treasures. Having been closed for nearly three years for the redevelopment, the museum – now doubled in size, with three times the gallery space – reopens on 14 May.

An external view of Snøhetta’s expansion.
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An external view of Snøhetta’s expansion. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

Alongside 260 pieces from the Fishers – the first trawl – will be not only the old permanent collection but hundreds of new works donated by the region’s art collectors, as part of a special campaign led by the museum’s director, Neal Benezra. The new SFMOMA is about to join the very highest rank of galleries of contemporary art in the world.

The museum, which opened in 1935, got its own building 60 years later – the postmodern structure by Mario Botta, recognisable by its stacked boxes of red brick and central cylinder wrapped in zebra stripes of black and white stone. This exterior has been left alone, but wedged around it is a distinctive new building on seven floors, created by Norwegian architects Snøhetta: its white rippled facade, we’re told, evokes the waters of the bay surrounding San Francisco and the rolling in of the city’s famous fog.

The interior has been designed to merge the two buildings seamlessly. Benezra and I walked around as the installation of the art was in its final stages, and only a few pieces were left in crates or cellophane. Much of the ground floor is near-complete: a huge Richard Serra sculpture, Sequence – two spirals of weathered steel transported to the museum on 11 flat-bed trucks – has long been in place at one glass-walled gallery entrance; a dozen people had just lifted a 26ft-wide Calder mobile to help in its suspension over the main atrium.

The director talks of the reopening being a “game changer for San Francisco”, but is careful to emphasise that the museum is now world-class in “contemporary” art – work, that is, from the last four decades of the 20th century and since – rather than “modern”. “I define modern art as going up through abstract expressionism,” he explains, “then with Warhol and Lichtenstein and the pop artists, Johns and Rauschenberg, there is a return to the visible world in one way or another. And to me that’s … contemporary art.”

When the Botta building opened in 1995, reviews noted how “spotty” or “skimpy” the museum’s permanent collection was: its highlights include Matisse’s Femme au Chapeau and works by Paul Klee and the Mexican masters, but it has no examples of futurism or Russian constructivism and no significant Picasso. There are plenty of first‑rate pieces to fill the galleries now, but SFMOMA still has a different, less historical, story to tell than its New York equivalent, the core collection of which comes from the early 20th century.

Gerhard Richter’s Geäst (Branches) (1988).
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Gerhard Richter’s Geäst (Branches) (1988). Photograph: © Gerhard Richter

So there is not much in the way of cubism, but plenty of pop art and minimalism – as well as postwar German masters (Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys) and the works of such California painters as Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Joan Brown. There is a whole room of Calders, a sun-filled gallery devoted to modern British sculpture (by Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Richard Long and many more), and a new centre that, Benezra hazards, “might just” make SFMOMA the most prominent photography museum in the US.

Benezra offers no apology for where SFMOMA’s strength lies, and as we tour the galleries his excitement at the remarkable bounty of the new museum is obvious. “You’ll be hard pressed to see a better room of Warhols,” he says, pointing out celebrated new acquisitions including Silver Marlon, with Brando on his Triumph motorbike from The Wild One, and the Triple Elvis, as well as the museum’s own famous study of Elizabeth Taylor on horseback, National Velvet. There is also a “museum within a museum” of 26 works by Kelly, who became a good friend of Doris Fisher. These include the jazzy arrangement of rectangles Cité from 1951, and the vivid stripes of Spectrum I, as well as the sliced shapes of Red Curves (1996) and Blue Panel (1985). The Kelly rooms, Benezra says, are “strikingly beautiful”: “We expect our colleagues in other museums to be green with envy.” Geometric Apple Core proudly sits on the fifth floor (after a special party was held at Gap HQ to say farewell).

The Fishers collected certain artists, among them Kelly and Calder, in great depth. Partly in consequence, according to Benezra, the new SFMOMA “runs counter to normal museum practice these days. Most museums – the Tate is a pretty good example of this – are working more thematically. You’ll go to a gallery and … the curator has authored an idea and the pictures illustrate that idea. We’ve done something just the opposite, and terribly old-fashioned … we’re refocusing on the artists and letting each one speak. The curators are not imposing their will on the paintings at all … You work with what you have, and with artists in such depth, why would we do anything else?”

Benezra talks of how big public art galleries have changed their role, from being “good stewards of the works of art in their custody” to more popular and fully public institutions, places where people come to meet and spend time. To reflect this, the new museum has more free-access space: the architects have knocked out the forbidding stairwell that dominated the old atrium to create a brighter entrance – where two enormous Julie Mehretu murals will eventually adorn the walls – and built a new wood, cantilevered “grand stair” that leads to an admission-free “art court”. The architects’ buzzwords include “reaching out” so that the museum becomes “more extroverted”.

Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963).
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Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963). Photograph: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Allied to this now obligatory inclusiveness is Benezra’s desire to explode the cliche that contemporary art is difficult. “For me,” he says, “if you want something really hard to understand, you’ll stand in front of a multipanel Renaissance altarpiece – you have to know who all the saints are, and why they’re there.” Contemporary art such as minimalism is, in contrast, much more accessible, and people shouldn’t think it esoteric because of its simplicity – gallery goers “should feel very confident about what they bring to the work”.

There are several new welcoming features at the museum. One is the vivid green “living wall” that lines a courtyard on the eastern side and comprises nearly 20,000 plants, all California native species. This triumph of vertical gardening involved planting in huge sheets of porous felt. Another is the expanded restaurant, called In Situ, run by chef Corey Lee, who Benezra calls, with a straight face, “our curator of food” – the idea being that, as well as serving up his own dishes, Lee will “borrow recipes from chefs around the world” much as “a curator putting on a Picasso exhibition would identify and borrow the best pictures”.

To help with the design of the galleries, an astonishing, tiny replica of SFMOMA has been constructed: over the past four years, a model-maker has made maquettes – detailed, accurate and some as small as half an inch long – of at least 2,000 artworks, which have been moved around by the curators to see how effective different hangings are, and what connections between pieces are suggested from different viewpoints.

Benezra calls the gifts recently acquired in the “campaign for art” an “outpouring”: news of the museum’s expansion “enabled us to tap more fully into the energy all around us, in a region known for its special creativity” and philanthropy. Much of this campaign involved approaching known collectors: “We tried to be as specific as possible with our requests”, asking for work by a particular artist or from a critical period in an artist’s career. “We know who owns what.” Before recent efforts, for example, SFMOMA had almost no works by Beuys: now there are drawings, a vitrine, a blackboard. Other donations include major works by Rauschenberg, Philip Guston, Lee Krasner, Pollock, Cy Twombly and Brice Marden.

A sculpture by Alexander Calder beside a living wall on the Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace.
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A sculpture by Alexander Calder beside a living wall on the Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

The campaign shines a fascinating light on how a major American art gallery such as SFMOMA operates; it is also the latest chapter in the story of how the museum has been transformed by the tech-led boom in the Bay Area. One aspect of this is the neighbourhood, SoMa, in which the museum stands: as recently as the early 90s it was, Benezra points out, “not a place where polite company would go looking for culture. Today it is one of the centres of the tech industry, dynamic and lively.” Another aspect is the availability of great wealth. “Entrepreneurship is a big thing in San Francisco, and the visual arts are particularly amenable to it,” investment mogul and chair of the SFMOMA board Charles Schwab said in 2000. “The art world moves … quickly … It reflects our changing society.” According to Benezra, the city has, outside of New York, “the greatest body of private collectors of contemporary art” in the US.

On SFMOMA’s board are real estate magnates, venture capitalists and the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer. The museum’s trustees have dug deep into their pockets and it has benefactors that represent really big money – the families behind the Hyatt hotel empire, for instance, and Levi Strauss retail. And when the museum held a party to celebrate its 75th birthday, Mark Zuckerberg came along.

The Fishers are, of course, the most obvious embodiment of immense wealth combined with a loyalty to San Francisco and an intense desire to collect art. The LA Times has described their collection as “very 1980s … big, brash, expensive, even vaguely avaricious in tone. Call it Dynasty-style acquisition” focused on “big-ticket artists … born of the American art world’s first, big, market-driven era”.

Dan Flavin’s untitled (to Barnett Newman) two (1971).
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Dan Flavin’s untitled (to Barnett Newman) two (1971). Photograph: Don Ross/Katherine Du Tiel

Yet the quality and range of Fisher pieces on show at SFMOMA, from David Hockney to a Louise Bourgeois black spider, speaks for itself. At one end of the fourth floor is a hexagonal Rothko-type chapel of superb near-monochrome minimalist works by Agnes Martin. When I ask associate curator Sarah Roberts to choose a few favourites, she mentions untitled (to Barnett Newman) two by Dan Flavin, a rectangle of red, yellow and blue fluorescent tubes; the coils and drips of Note 1 by Twombly; and Bracket by Joan Mitchell, a 15ft-wide late-career work.

Perhaps the best instance of an artist the Fishers collected in depth is Richter, the world’s most revered (and expensive) living painter. He is also the practitioner of contemporary art par excellence thanks to the famed plurality of his output. “The whole set of assumptions about modern art was that it was incumbent on an artist to define for him or herself a particular signature style, something that was indisputably their own,” Benezra explains. “So Jackson Pollock poured and dripped paint, and so on. But with contemporary art you don’t allow yourself to be boxed in.”

On the sixth floor of the new museum it’s possible to see Richter “in all his conceptual glory”. The variety of his work is immediately evident in one room, which juxtaposes the conventional-seeming grey-blue Seascape with the “near-abstract aerial view of a city” titled Townscape Madrid and 256 Colours, one of his canvases based on paintshop colour charts.

Nearby is the well-known, Vermeer-influenced study of Richter’s wife, Sabine, The Reader, and – yet another contrast of style – examples of his big abstractions made using a squeegee. Propped against a wall, waiting for hanging, is the Richter work Benezra describes as perhaps the most important for the Fishers in their entire collection: the delicately blurred Two Candles, which the family took off the wall and slipped into the back of their car twice a year, as they moved back and forth between their house in San Francisco and their place just south of the city, on the Peninsula.

The top floor of the museum leaves the Fisher collection behind and brings the museum’s holdings up to date, by showing media arts and works made since 1980. “We wanted it to be the most contemporary space,” Benezra says: instead of a ceiling, the ductwork has been left exposed for a rather predictable touch of industrial chic. We walk past a Jeff Wall light box not yet switched on, and pieces by Ai Weiwei, Matthew Barney and Richard Prince.

Perhaps the most noteworthy piece for the reopening, however, is Sleeping Woman, a solid stainless steel sculpture by Charles Ray of a clothed black woman, clearly homeless, asleep on a bench. With the influx of tech money, the homeless situation in some neighbourhoods of the city has become acute: it’s a “powerful piece for San Francisco”, Benezra comments.

Strenuous efforts are being made in the marketing of the new museum to link it to all parts of the local community. (One initiative is free admission for under-18s.) Benezra expresses the hope that San Francisco remains “not just a great consumer of culture but also a producer of culture”. That’s “a big challenge” because it’s increasingly “hard for people of ordinary means to live” in the city, and those “who produce culture” – the up-and-coming artists themselves – “are often-times doing so on a shoestring”.

With its Calders, Warhols, Richters and Kellys, SFMOMA is about to rise high up the table of art museums and become an unmissable attraction on the west coast. Without doubt this achievement is in part a product of the money-fuelled transformation of the Bay Area – and the gallery’s expansion is unlikely to silence the increasingly loud talk of how the tech industry has stripped San Francisco of its culture and its soul. Yet both the Snøhetta building and the augmented collection will surely continue to please and impress after any number of Silicon Valley bubbles have burst. And as its director reflects: the new museum represents something that simply “would not have been possible in another place at another time”.

SFMOMA reopens on 14 May at 151 3rd Street, San Francisco. sfmoma.org.

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THE ECONOMIST LONDON

Contemporary art in America

Going public

The biggest contemporary-art museum in America will be unveiled next month. Building it took ingenuity, persuasiveness—and a lot of money

IN MANY countries rich art-buyers are deserting public institutions in favour of building their own private museums. Not in the Bay Area, where some 200 collectors have been persuaded to donate over 4,000 works of art to the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). As if that were not enough, they have also contributed generously to a new $305m building designed by Snøhetta, a Norwegian firm, and to a healthy endowment of $245m. When it opens on May 14th, SFMOMA will be the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in America.

Five years in the making, the new SFMOMA reflects the confluence of old money from the American West and new wealth from Silicon Valley. And it proves, in a way that few other projects could, how important collecting contemporary art has become as a measure of wealth, taste, ambition and civic duty.

Nearly three-quarters of the works on show in the inaugural exhibitions are recent gifts. Neal Benezra, the director, engineered a “Campaign for Art” in which the museum cherry-picked works from important local collections. “We did not just drop a net to see what we could catch,” he explains. The museum has focused on filling gaps in its collection and bolstering areas where it is already strong.

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Robin Wright, a lifelong philanthropist and vice-chair of the board, helped SFMOMA solicit gifts. She gave the museum a list of the works in her collection; the museum chose 36 pieces, including a rare Ed Ruscha painting from 1973 entitled “Evil” and made with the artist’s own blood. “It’s hard to imagine dying,” says Ms Wright. “And who could be a better guardian of your art once you’re gone?” Collectors can enjoy knowing that their art pieces are (literally) museum-worthy, and that they will return home when the museum changes displays. It all, says Mr Benezra, contributes to “great estate planning”.

A decade ago, many donations to American museums were “fractional gifts”; collectors could benefit from tax write-offs on a proportion of the changing (often increasing) market value of their works. When the rules were changed by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the practice became financially unattractive and art donations fell.

Another system known as “promised gifts” began to take precedence. SFMOMA has done a good job of spelling out the psychological and social benefits of this form of philanthropy. Just as it was confirming Ms Wright’s gift, Charles Schwab, chairman of the board, and his wife Helen made an offer of their own—27 works, including stellar paintings by Fernand Léger, Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon. Soon afterwards, seven other important collectors pledged over 100 more works.

By far the largest contribution came from Donald and Doris Fisher, co-founders of Gap, a clothing chain. In September 2009, just before he died, Mr Fisher shook hands with Mr Benezra on a deal which granted SFMOMA a 100-year loan of 1,100 works, including 25 by Alexander Calder, 22 Gerhard Richters, 18 Andy Warhols and 18 Ellsworth Kellys (some of which can be seen pictured).

Fascinated by the creative process, the Fishers had bought “in depth”, sometimes following an artist’s career over several decades. “In many museums, you see one of this and one of that,” says Bob Fisher, the eldest of three Fisher sons who is president of the SFMOMA board. “You gain an understanding of what Abstract Expressionism or Minimalism is, but you aren’t given the chance to appreciate the mind of an artist.” Neither the Fishers nor the museum will disclose the value of the collection, but experts suggest it is worth well over $1 billion.

The partnership of SFMOMA and the Fishers is unprecedented, and it comes with strict rules. Every ten years, the museum must put on an exhibition that focuses exclusively on the Fisher collection. At other times, the museum can mix the Fisher works with those from its own and other collections. SFMOMA will also take care of conserving and promoting the art. In return, the Fishers contributed an undisclosed “very generous” sum towards the new building and its endowment.

The challenge of presenting this onslaught of gifts to the public has fallen principally to Gary Garrels, senior curator of painting and sculpture, who spent three years contemplating scale models of the museum’s seven exhibition floors and has been installing the works since December. The museum decided to include at least one work from each of the campaign’s 231 donors, so the installation will offer a portrait of the Bay Area collecting community rather than an art-historical narrative.

Visitors can enter the museum through the elegant new Snøhetta structure into the sort of grand light-filled space that has become a standard requirement of art museums (Tate Modern, which will open its own new extension a month after SFMOMA, will have one too). In San Francisco the space will be filled with a classic rusted-steel sculpture by Richard Serra; upstairs in the atrium is an uncharacteristically joyful, blue-and-white wall drawing by Sol LeWitt entitled “Loopy Doopy”.

What will make SFMOMA unique is the enfilade of rooms offering mini-retrospectives of individual artists. Thanks to the bounteous gifts the museum has received, these are so good they will become destinations in themselves. One has an exuberant range of mobiles and other sculptures by Calder, who went to the same San Francisco high school as Donald Fisher. Another, nicknamed “The Chapel”, is an octagonal room with a suite of seven serenely geometric paintings by Agnes Martin.

San Francisco is the Wall Street of the West, but it is also the historical hub of hippies, gay liberation, the farm-to-table movement and digital culture. It is a creative city that sprang from nothing in 1848, when the Gold Rush hit. Its citizens know all too well that culture does not just happen; it has to be made, underwritten, nurtured. “One thing I’ve learned through this fund-raising process,” says the museum’s director, “is that this community loves a big idea. They are willing to take chances and risk failure, but they want the next awesome idea.”

Jun 6, 201602:27 PMPoint of View

In Detail: Snøhetta’s SFMOMA Expansion

In Detail: Snøhetta's SFMOMA Expansion

All images courtesy Paul Clemence


Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta, compares libraries and museums to theatres and cinemas—people go to experience the magic (not observe the nuts and bolts of making). With the expanded SFMOMA, however, the Norwegian-based firm has made explicit the increasingly collaborative relationship between artist and community, art and public, and visitor and architecture. The architecture both privileges and exposes the vital act of dialogue. And the magic, albeit slightly demystified, is still there.

Despite a challenging and constricted urban lot, the architects came up with an intriguing solution: a voluptuous volume whose shape is both a functional and aesthetic gesture. “The bows allow for extra gallery space without the extra volume having to go all the way to the ground of the building,” says Dykers. “But it also helps us manipulate the scale relationship with the neighboring buildings and the city fabric.” Interestingly, this play of curved void & volume also appears in a sculptural installation of Richard Serra’s “Sequence,” which will be occupying the ground floor gallery facing the street (with only a glass wall separating it from the sidewalk, this gallery will be free and open to the public).

For the facades, the architects developed undulating cement and polymer fiber panels (less than a quarter of an inch thick) produced by a high tech robotic system that makes unique panels more cost-effective than repeated ones. The resulting effect adds even more movement to the building’s design. “The rippling façade gestures towards the identity of San Francisco – the fog, the bay waters, all pull together into the shaping,” explains Dykers.

Inside, the transitional spaces, hallways and staircases become opportunities to engage the visitor. In Dykers words, “We wanted to create an experience of architecture where people could feel they owned their moment, whether alone or in a crowd. When you invest personal energy into using a building—and when you invest in something you feel you own—this is kind of like a handshake with the design.” Staircases become exercises in transparency, with views in different directions, hallways act as breathing spaces, and the façade opens up to generous open vistas to the city.

For an even more guttural connection to the surrounding cityscape, a long open terrace on the fifth floor gives visitors a broad, perched urban overview. From this terrace, visitors will also be able to peek through glass walls into the room where the SFMOMA team and visiting artists will be busy at work planning, producing, conserving or even creating the pieces that later will appear in the galleries.

7 x 7

Art + Design

First Look: Inside the Newly Transformed SFMOMA

It’s been nearly three years since SFMOMA shut its doors with the promise to return much bigger and better in 2016. On Saturday, May 14, the celebrated art museum will finally unveil its richly expanded collection in a striking new home.

THE NEW BUILDING

(The views from the new museum are just as wonderful as the art.)

SFMOMA’s gorgeous new home will have social media buzzing for months. In 2010, SFMOMA tapped international firm Snøhetta to design a new structure to exhibit the museum’s expanded collection and seamlessly meld with the existing building designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta in 1995. The new 10-story structure rises above SoMa like a futuristic edifice from the planet Hoth. The facade is comprised of 800 unique panels that appear to ripple and shift with the light, a literal reflection of our famously foggy climate. Made of a lightweight material embedded with sand from around the Monterey Bay, the 235,000-square-foot addition actually weighs less than the original 225,000-square-foot building.

(A Richard Serra sculpture greets guests as they enter on Howard Street.)

Guests now enter on Howard Street, catching sight of ghost signs that were exposed when a fire station was removed to lend space for SFMOMA’s expansion, as they walk in. Visitors are greeted by a gargantuan Richard Serra sculpture of burnished metal and a bold patterned wall painting by Sol Lewitt dubbed Loopy Doopy. As part of the museum’s commitment to community access, the first two floors — nearly 45,000 square feet — are free to the public. The museum will also offer free admission to everyone 18 and under. Director Neal Benezra stated, “We want to mean more to more people than ever before.”

(The largest living wall open to the public graces the third floor terrace.)

Guests are sure to swoon for the third floor outdoor terrace, anchored by a dramatic 150-foot living wall — the largest public one in the U.S. — whose stretch of green looks like a mini Golden Gate Park affixed to the building. Another terrace on the seventh floor offers invigorating views of the downtown cityscape. Craig Dykers, lead architect and founding member of Snøhetta, encourages visitors to take the stairs. From the spectacular Roman Steps on the ground floor to the floating staircases of the upper floors, each unique stairway functions as its own sculptural objet d’art lending strong incentive to bypass the elevators.

Even restrooms delight with a shock of of monochromatic color — a different hue for each floor — that wouldn’t be out of place at the clubby W Hotel next door. As arresting as the art and interiors are, some of the best visuals are outfacing via huge wood-framed windows that offer glimpses of SoMa’s hidden rooftops and busy alleyways. With so much visual info to digest, museum fatigue is real. Bleary-eyed patrons can seek refuge in smartly designed “palate cleansers,” a series of composed spots to rest, reflect and mind your Instagram feed.

NEW ARTWORK

When SFMOMA moved to their new South of Market location in 1995, the museum possessed 12,000 pieces of art. Today, the number has grown to 33,000, thanks to over 1,000 pieces made available from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection — a remarkable assemblage of masterworks that began as decoration for bare Gap walls — in addition to the museum’s Campaign for Art which committed 3,000 works from over 230 individuals associated with the museum.

The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection is a boon for the museum with postwar and contemporary works from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, and Gerhard Richter. The inaugural shows feature beautiful galleries of some of the Fisher’s favorite artists. For the late Don Fisher, big powerful works by Anselm Kiefer, and for Doris, serene paintings by Ellsworth Kelly whom she maintained a close friendship with until the artist’s death.

The new SFMOMA also aims to be an epicenter of photography and film. Occupying most of the third floor, the Pritzker Center for Photography is the largest gallery and research space devoted to photography among art museums in the nation. Plus, a new partnership with the San Francisco Film Society means a new film program, Modern Cinema, exhibited in the newly renovated Phyllis Wattis Theater

Aiming to embody a 21st century art museum, SFMOMA also premiered a new app that guides guests through galleries with commentary from a wide range of personalities including Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani of HBO’s Silicon Valley as well as players from the SF Giants.

NEW RESTAURANT

Corey Lee, chef-owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant Benu and Monsieur Benjamin, is opening the museum’s destination eatery. In Situ will present a rotating menu of dishes contributed by an all-star list of 80 international chefs including Rene Redzepi, David Chang, and Alice Waters. The restaurant is expected to open in June. For more casual fare, Cafe 5 will serve a contemporary cafe menu adjacent to the sunny fifth floor sculpture garden. And San Franciscans will feel right at home at the museum’s Sightglass outpost, a hip mini coffee bar carved out on the third floor.

OPENING DAY

SFMOMA is offering free admission on opening day but all visitors must have a ticket via online reservation system and the museum is currently sold out. Still, eager fans can join ribbon-cutting festivities with city dignitaries at 8:30am that morning.

SFMOMA will be open to the public seven days a week from 10am to 5pm through Labor Day, with extended hours until 9pm on Thursdays. Admission ticket prices are: General admission $25, Seniors (65 & older) $22, Ages 19-24 $19, Ages 18 & Under Free. Membership starts at $100. // SFMOMA, 151 Third Street (SoMa), sfmoma.org

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