There’s a new must-see attraction in San Francisco: the newly reopened SFMOMA.
I wrote about the museum’s huge expansion in my Sunday Spotlight column, marveling at the sheer amount of exhibition space and waffling just a bit on its architectural impact.
I asked friends on Facebook who have already seen the new museum – which opened to the public May 14 – to tell me what they thought. Here’s a sampling.
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I took some graduate painters and a couple of colleagues to SFMOMA a few weeks ago (two weeks after the end of the semester but before high schools break for summer). Everyone loved it. We spent the entire day exploring the museum. I was impressed with their contemporary painting collection (Luc Tuymans, Victor mann), as well as the German art exhibition, Kiefer, Richter, Polke; but there were many impressive works across many mediums, painting, photography, video. It’s a rich permanent collection has some wonderful and important works by Thiebaud and Diebenkorn as well as Hockney, Archwager, Bacon.
Of course we were excited to see the building, which was not a disappointment. It’s a beautiful new structure, with gorgeous staircases leading to open and fresh spaces. We had to be careful not to miss anything, as you can easily pass a room here and there, if you don’t pay attention.
I’m excited to see who and what they will show in the future, their blockbuster shows, Kiefer, Richter, Bechtle, have all been vital for our students over the years (we often take bus trips to shows of the calibre).
Our van trip worked out perfectly (aside from some morning traffic) we spent a full day there, with coffee breaks in the museum cafes, then grabbed dinner after the museum closed a block away, and a painless drive back.
I became a member, it’s a very good deal $100 a year for free entry (with a free guest) as well as discounts, etc. Well worth it.
Jon Carroll, who worked for the Fresno Metropolitan Museum and now lives in San Francisco, where he is director of development at Frameline, writes:
I visited the new SF MOMA on 2 separate occasions – once at a member preview and once about 2 weeks after opening. The experiences were a little different and I would recommend going at least 2x to really get a sense of the flow.
Overall for me, I find the new building a mixed bag. I don’t really view it as an iconic building and perhaps that has more to do with knitting the new structure into the older well-established Mario Botto building. Here are my thoughts strictly on the architecture and not on the collection or exhibitions contained within.
Things I liked:
The Snøhetta addition provides a grand amount of space for the artwork and new items the collection. Even on a busy day, I was struck by how the new galleries allow for movement and appreciation of the works without a constricted feel.
The mid-level sculpture garden and living wall is probably a highlight of the building. While the scale is rather large it doesn’t swallow the visitor and actually provides a fairly intimate and organic respite from the stark white and abundant light maple elsewhere. It also provides interesting vistas on neighboring buildings with some quirky architecture.
The cutout windows along the North side of the addition. They give much needed light not the space and allow for a break amidst the interior. They also provide a gathering and conversation space as well as a rest area before one dives back into the gallery.
Things I didn’t care for:
I don’t care for the new facade of the building. Meant to evoke the fog or rippling waters of the Bay I find the poly-reinforced concrete cladding to look slightly cheap and the white character of its finish to not hold up well when faced with the grime of the City.
The stairwells between the gallery floors are the fastest way to navigate the space, but some can be disorienting (again the wash of blond wood provides little contrast for navigating the stairwell treads) and some stairwells are even slightly claustrophobic in comparison to the scale of the floors they service.
The new street entrance from Howard. I’m confused by why this is here – except to clearly provide public access to the extraordinary Serra sculptures (more later). It’s rather like entering the back kitchen to get to the dining room of a fancy restaurant. Once in, it’s rather striking but the service entrance doesn’t make the grand statement you find in the 2nd public lobby of the Botto building.
I love that they have removed the old circular stairs beneath the oculus of the Botto building in lobby #1. I always found them to be rather clunky and plopped down as if to emphasize their own importance. Opening the space great idea – execution with the new stairs in a dog-leg not so great. there’s nothing interesting about them in the least. They re mere serviceable. I feel it’s a missed opportunity to find a creative transition from the old to the new.
Love the amphitheater seating in lobby #2 overlooking the Serra sculptures as well as the landing space for members and ticketing/coat check/visitor services. The scale of the space housing the Serra works seems a tad cramped given how much room other galleries provide for their works.
On an unrelated and social consciousness note, I strolled the space and marveled at the sheer magnitude of its size. Paradoxically, in a city faced with scant housing resources for artists (struggling or otherwise, as well as for lower to mid-income families) I mused upon how much space/money/energy has been provided for these objects and I’m someone who loves museums and artworks. It did give me some pause.
All in all, it’s a good building -- not spectacular but good. I’d give it a B-.
Nanete Maki-Dearsan, a well-known Fresno artist, writes:
I loved it. They were aiming for a world class museum and in my opinion, they achieved it. There were a lot of visitors but also a lot of people working, all had great positive attitudes, so it works. Same book store and lower entrance, pretty much everything else changed. Awesome, can’t really do anything but the museum in a day now, lots to see. Nice outdoor sculpture on upper walkways, cool plant wall, each place is a different environment. Love it.
Susan Fox, who owns a condo in San Francisco, writes:
I was impressed with the design of the galleries – allowing an open feeling with significant space to maximize the setting for each piece. And I love that the windows are designed to connect the interior with the streets and buildings outside. The building is beautiful and the design complements the artwork.
Local thespian Karan Johnson writes:
It’s overwhelming. So much to do and see. I really liked all the films and interactive exhibits. And the bathrooms ;-)
Thanks, readers, for all the good feedback. As you visit the new SFMOMA this summer and beyond, let me know what you think.