Seasoned arts professionals who visited San Francisco last Thursday for a press preview of the magnificent new Museum of Modern Art also ambitiously popped over to the new Gagosian space, the Wattis Institute or Minnesota St Projects all in the same day.
I am far from seasoned. After my day at SFMOMA I stumbled into the bar at 111 Minna where I was immediately offered a drink, because I clearly looked like I needed one.
The L.A. Times’ own Christopher Knight tried to warn us all with his deep dive preview published last week: “SFMOMA’s inauguration is marked by a whopping 18 shows — all drawn from the collection. (I saw all 18 in one day, which I do not recommend.)” There’s actually 20 shows, but after 3 who’s counting?
Well, I am hard-headed and I tried to see everything; as a result I was stuck on what to write about SFMOMA for a few days. When faced with a task that is too overwhelming, you can only do one thing. Chunk it down. So, to prepare you for the museum’s Grand Opening on May 14th, I’ll break down SFMOMA in 3 short posts. I like things in threes and apparently so does the museum; you’ll start to see a trend here… My goal is prevent any other poor souls from spilling into the streets, dazed and confused because there’s a lot, and I mean a LOT to see – so let’s start with some facts.
SFMOMA closed its doors in 2013 to begin its $305M expansion by Snøhetta . The existing Mario Botta designed building is now enveloped by a large, snow-white expansion that was designed to mimic the undulating hills, water and fog of the bay. When viewed from the Yerba Buena gardens, the strength of the iconic Botta building remains, while the Snøhetta expansion hovering behind it provides interesting sight lines for a structure that now spans an entire city block. The gallery space is now 3x the size of the original Botta gallery and provides 7 floors of viewable art (10 floors total) in a new building that provides ample room for its 20 exhibitions. For simplicity’s sake I distilled the 20 shows into 3 collections. Understanding the differences between 3 three collections is important as you enter the new space.
The Old SFMOMA
The Botta building continues to house the original SFMOMA collection which remains the soul of the museum. While critics deemed the collection light and limited in scope, for those of us who grew up with SFMOMA, being reunited with the preserved collection was a welcome sight. Here you will see works by Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstien, Jasper Johns, Sargent Johnson, Diego Rivera and Rauschenberg.
The Fisher Collection
Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher amassed a collection of over 1,100 works between the early 1970’s-1980’s and in 2009 they announced a 100 year loan partnership with SFMOMA. The collection spearheaded the museum’s expansion and eventually the works will be integrated with the permanent collection. For the inaugural show and every 10 years thereafter (during the partnership) a special exhibition in the Fisher’s name will be on view. While their collection spans over 185 artists, their non-curator, non-dealer based blue chip collection concentrated on Calder, Ellsworth Kelly, Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Warhol and Serra. Curatorially, the collection had a few gaps (notably artists of color and women in addition to an anemic photography collection). This is why the 3rd collection is key.
The Campaign for Art and the Pritzker Center for Photography
Shortly before MOMA announced its expansion and partnership with the Fishers in 2009, the museum launched a contemporary acquisitions campaign that challenged trustees and curators from across all disciplines to expand the depth and breadth of their respective collections. The result of their combined efforts expanded the collection by 3,000 works integral to rounding out and harmonizing the existing collection and the Fisher collection. Among the artists included in the expansion campaign are Cindy Sherman, Eva Hesse, Glenn Ligon, Mark Bradford, Doris Salcedo, Ai Weiwei, Ruth Asawa and Garry Winogrand, many of which are included in the inaugural exhibition.
This was a crucial piece of information that was frankly lost on me as I initially viewed the galleries at the preview. I was puzzled by the random placement of a beautiful piece by Njideka Akunyili Crosby hidden in a back corner gallery on the 2nd floor alongside works by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Alice Neel. I was concerned that diversity started and stopped with these three pieces, but luckily I was wrong. With that said, you have to know where to go, otherwise you will surely miss some of the best features of the new space. Tours are recommended, but if you are like me and prefer to experience a museum without a herd, I have some tips.
Tomorrow I will give you 3 Culture Shock Art tours that will help you get the most out of your time at the new museum.