During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Dublin. Like a good (and lucky) American kid in Europe, I used every bank holiday and school recess to journey elsewhere. During one trip, I visited friends in London and spent the day at the then newly opened Tate Modern museum. On another trip, I wandered the galleries of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where a retrospective on Dennis Hopper’s art was on display. And during a memorable springtime trip in Spain, I explored the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. These experiences all remain crystal-clear memories.
In one way or another, modern art has shaped my time in cities since that pivotal year abroad. So it was with totally unbridled enthusiasm that I attended last week’s press day at the new SFMOMA in my hometown. When the museum reopens to the public, after a three-year closure and expansion, on May 14, it does so with three times the gallery space, 19 special exhibitions, and 260 postwar and contemporary works from the Fisher Collection. As I see it, this is the most exciting thing to happen to San Francisco in, well, years. Yes, more exciting than myriad tech startups, more exciting than a new sports stadium, more exciting than a glut of fabulous new restaurants (though I really like the restaurants).
This collection—and the new light-drenched building by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta—will help put San Francisco on the map in a way that makes me very proud to live here. In seeking to make museums and art more democratic, the museum is offering free admission to young people 18 and under, and anyone will have free public access to the ground-floor galleries (45,000 square feet of them).
From the Motion Lab series
Untitled (to Barnett Newman) two, 1971
Shirley Goldfarb + Gregory Masurovsky, 1974
256 Farben (256 Colors), 1974/1984
Berkeley #47, 1955
Reflections: Whaaam!, 1990
Untitled XIX, 1983
San Francisco has a history of leading the pack when it comes to contemporary art. In 1935, the museum opened as the San Francisco Museum of Art. It was one of the first museums devoted to modern art in the United States. Fast forward to 1995, when a new building opened south of Market Street with 12,000 works in the collection. Today, the museum has 33,000 works in its collection, thanks in large part to gifts from the Fisher Collection. Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin are well represented here because of personal relationships with the Fisher family.
With the reopening, the museum has also focused on photography, devoting an entire floor to imagery and including numerous works by living artists. And it puts a spotlight on California art (Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, and many, many more) and postwar German art (including a mind-boggling selection from the prolific Gerhard Richter). Other major artists—Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Diane Arbus, William Kentridge—have numerous works here.
Because the museum is in San Francisco, it is also leading the way in the intersection of digital innovation and art. Our friends at the walking tour app Detour created the new SFMOMA app, which combines immersive audio storytelling and location-aware technology. Bring headphones, download the app, and listen to artists, comedians, playwrights, and others as you make your way through the galleries.
Last week, I took a rare day away from the office to explore the new museum before the crowds arrive. As Ruth Berson, the museum’s deputy director of curatorial affairs, put it, “I think what we all want from art is a sense of opposing the chaos of daily life.” I couldn’t agree more.
Buy advance tickets to the new SFMOMA.