The Metamorphosis of SFMOMA

The Bay Area is coming into its own as an art center mecca.


A new outdoor sculpture terrace and vertical garden are part of the new SFMOMA.

Courtesy SFMOMA


With the recent gallery and nonprofit closures and downsizings, and artist evictions, the Bay Area art world is undergoing tough times. Even our traditional freewheeling Bohemian ethos looks endangered. Our larger art institutions, however, are thriving, with new museum facilities under construction in Berkeley, Stanford, and San Francisco. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which closed in 2013 for a three-year hiatus, reopens in early 2016, expanded far beyond its 1995 footprint with a 10-story, 235,000-square-foot wing, designed by the award-winning firm, Snøhetta, which also designed the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. The new tiered, striated, white concrete structure, now rising behind Mario Botta’s 1995 striped red-brick cube with its oculus skylight, will fill approximately a quarter of the block at the corner of Third and Howard Streets.

These growing pains are necessitated by the growth of the collection to some 30,000 objects. This includes the famed Donald and Doris Fisher Collection at SFMOMA, with works in figurative, and abstract painting, Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism by such art luminaries as Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol. In addition, 473 20th-century Japanese and American photographs by artists like Daido Moriyama, Irving Penn, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Garry Winogrand, and 195 works by artists like Diane Arbus, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Cindy Sherman will be donated by other local collectors. SFMOMA’s already impressive photography collection will be housed in the new John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography, on SFMOMA’s third floor; at 15,500 square feet, it will be the largest photography exhibition space in the United States.

Not all of the space will be dedicated to exhibitions, however; 130,000 square feet will provide new indoor and outdoor exhibition space, with 15,000 square feet on the ground floor made available to the public, free, displaying Richard Serra’s gigantic steel sculpture, Sequence. SFMOMA has rethought the role of the art museum, and thankfully abandoned the flashy-bauble architectural trend of recent years, focusing on opening up and modernizing the institution. "The goal has been to improve nearly every aspect of who we are as a museum and how we serve our many audiences," said SFMOMA’s Neal Benezra. "These improvements include state-of-the-art sound systems and computer-controlled LED lighting; flexible-plan galleries amenable to art installations; a performance-friendly space in the fourth-floor ‘white box’ space, equipped for digital projections; enhanced facilities for K-12 schoolchildren in the upgraded Koret Visitor Education Center;  ‘green’ systems that will conserve energy and water; a third-floor sculpture terrace boasting a large vertical garden of local drought-resistant native plants; and a seventh-floor outdoor terrace, providing sweeping views that will integrate the new museum more thoroughly with its San Francisco surroundings."

The renovation also includes The Artist Initiative, a long-term project supported by a $1.75 million Mellon Foundation grant, designed to bring selected artists into the collecting and programming processes; the eighth-floor Elise S. Haas Conservation Center; the offsite programming currently taking place in sister Bay Area institutions; the Artist Archive, featuring, for example, Jay DeFeo’s painting trowel, and good-as-new restored versions of Eva Hesse’s fragile, disintegrating sculptures; and the coming free admission for under-18s, thanks to a successful challenge grant.

The Bay Area, despite current economic challenges, appears to be coming into its own as an art center.



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