Five Ways To Enjoy The New SFMOMA
The Snøhetta expansion of the new SFMOMA, 2016. Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA
Soak in the masterpieces at San Francisco’s Snøhetta-designed new modern art gallery, with work from the likes of Messrs Gerhard Richter, Philip Guston and Andy Warhol, nibble on Michelin-starred offerings by Mr Corey Lee of Benu – or find a quiet space of your own to get away from it all.
Museums are our new cathedrals, places to gather and gawk as well as to kneel in reverence in front of cultural icons – so the timing feels right for the launch of what has been breathlessly advertised as the “largest institution for modern art in this country”. Opening to the public on 14 May, the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA for short), features 235,000 sq ft of new exhibition space designed by the architectural firm Snøhetta, an ambitious addition to postmodernist architect Mr Mario Botta’s original, controversial building that has been a cultural landmark since it was first built in a derelict San Francisco neighbourhood in 1995.
As public a spectacle as art has become, a museum is only as successful as its facility for enabling moments of quiet contemplation. Luckily, the new SFMOMA is designed with this very much in mind. “We like to say that we hope people will feel ‘alone together’ on their visit to our design,” says Snøhetta’s Mr Craig Dykers, the project’s principal architect. “People should be able to move freely between the contemplative and the entirely social.”
In case you’re wondering just how you might do so, here are five ways to find a moment of personal Zen in the new building.
Before ascending the extraordinary engineering feat of the main cantilevered staircase that acts, according to Mr Dykers, as “a bridge between the new addition and old”, place yourself dead centre underneath the oculus, an aperture of light to the outside world, and look up. This cylinder of a skylight was part of Botta’s original design, but is now much less encumbered with architectural distraction.
A growing number of museums, from the high profile Herzog & de Meuron project for the Pérez Art Museum in Miami to lesser known gem Casa del Alabado in the beleaguered city of Quito, Ecuador, have installed living and breathing walls of plants as a successful counterpoint to the white wall experience of the museum interior. Habitat Horticulture, a San Francisco-based firm, has created another such masterpiece on SFMOMA’s third-floor terrace and sculpture garden: made up of well over 19,000 plant pouches housing multiple species of living foliage, this symphony of green is an effective detox from the oversaturated intellect after a long day consuming art.
Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art: The Fisher Collection exhibition. Photograph by Mr Iwan Baan, courtesy of SFMOMA
Visit any of the bathrooms, strategically placed throughout the museum. Here you’ll be struck by the rather jarring, out-there colour choices, each more attention grabbing than the next. One, during installation, was even nicknamed by some of the staff after a hallucinogen in a town that knows its drugs. “We evaluated the colour ranges we found in the art collection and decided to pull forward some colours and immerse the rooms in some of this spectrum,” says Mr Dyker. “These colours will be a little thrill in between the exceptional moments that the art provides, a ‘palette’ cleanser, so to speak.”
Find Mr Gerhard Richter’s painting “Zwei Kerzen” (1982) on the fourth floor and give it more than a passing look. The paintings and sculpture that currently fill this new addition are the product of years of dedicated and passionate looking and acquisition by a local couple: Mrs Doris and her late husband Mr Donald Fisher, co-founders of The Gap. The story goes that two days before Mr Fisher’s death, an agreement for a 100-year loan was inked, giving SFMOMa a jaw-dropping collection of more than 1,100 art works of the highest quality and a legitimate reason to expand. What makes the Richter so special is that this particular painting, when not on loan, travels wherever the Fisher family happens to be living, a talisman of their devotion and love for the transformative qualities of art. Stare at it long enough and the rest of the room will become quieter. That is a promise. The Fisher Collection is distinctive in that the Fishers fostered special relationships with artists that they revered: Messrs Ellsworth Kelly, Philip Guston, Andy Warhol and Richard Serra are just a few among many others.
Mr Alexander Calder’s “Untitled” (1963) on view in the Ms Evelyn and Mr Walter Haas, Jr Atrium at the new SFMOMA. Photograph by Mr Iwan Baan, courtesy of SFMOMA
Visit the restaurant. Conceived by Mr Corey Lee, the three-Michelin-star chef behind renowned San Francisco restaurant Benu, In Situ is a fascinating culinary concept of collaboration. Mr Lee has travelled the world and visited more than 80 kitchens to source recipes directly from the chefs that he admires. His intention is to replicate exactly how each dish is prepared, giving full credit and provenance to its original creator.