The SFMOMA finally reopened earlier this year, featuring a large and world-class contemporary art collection courtesy of the Fisher Family, founders of the Gap chain. After several visits, I can in good conscience even refer to it as the “new and improved” SFMOMA. My initial impression, however, wasn’t so rosy.
Our first visit was all too brief. Gina and I arrived past the hour of gaining admittance to the galleries. We managed a walk through the lobby of the old building, then up a new staircase into the new wing, and finally down a flight of stairs leading to the colossal Stella, in which we happily lost ourselves, wandering in, through and about:
Unlike many art and architecture aficionados, I loved the Mario Botta design of the original museum, inside and out. The juxtaposition of the elegant, orange brick building with the gray-and-white striped cylindrical cupola crowned with a slanted glass oculus was for me more of a landmark in the SF skyline than the Transamerica pyramid. The inside was even more spectacular, with a vast lobby leading to a graceful, white double staircase with the sensational oculus looming above.
Alas, in the interest of expanding the exhibition space to accommodate the burgeoning collection, the cathedral-like entrance was eviscerated, and the curvaceous double staircase succumbed to the wrecking ball. In place of the double staircase stood the new ungainly, rectilinear maple stairway, which led to a second-level lobby, a dispiriting gray WWII bunker-like construction with low ceilings and drab, gray linoleum flooring. We had just enough time after emerging from the Stella labyrinth to check out the exterior of the new wing. It was composed of a unique, crinkled white skin we found quite beautiful (see above).
We departed all too soon, hoping we could see the rest of the museum afterwards, and that the Fisher collection would redeem the architectural sacrifices that created the space for it. Two visits later, I can now say, on the whole I am delighted by this museum, still my fave in the Bay Area. The Fisher collection is truly spectacular and complements the museum’s already contemporarily weighted collection. On view is also a survey of some wonderful California artists. The outdoor sculpture garden is a lovely, tranquil space to have a bite. And the sparse Modern Art collection remained gratefully undisturbed, with three Picasso paintings on view, this cityscape from the time before “Picasso became Picasso”:
and these two:
Since this museum is in flagrant violation of the “Ledor Doctrine”, which stipulates that every museum be required to display all the Picassos in their collection at all times (admittedly, every other museum also breaks this rule), I’ll try to compensate by illustrating another pair of them:
But never fear, I’m confident that a visit to the SFMOMA will provide you with the kind of transcendent experience we art lovers need and want from a great museum.