THE SANTA CLARA
May 19, 2016
On Sunday, San Francisco saw the bizarre gather on its streets once again for “Bay to Breakers,” an annual event where you can find people in tracksuits, monkey suits and even birthday suits, all pounding the concrete in complete bliss.
The day before, the city celebrated the untraditional in another way, with the grand reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, an enormous project three years in the making.
Squeezed into the city’s downtown, across from the Yerba Buena Gardens, the newly redesigned building now hosts 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor gallery space with seven floors of modern mayhem.
And on Sunday, I braved the crowds of hungover and tired runners in their tutus and wigs to visit the shiny new SFMOMA.
Diving in, I immediately headed to the first set of major exhibitions on view, located on the second floor.
This floor thrusts visitors into the 20th century and showcases the pieces of many modern masters: Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal titled “Fountain” commands the center of a room, while on the walls, works by Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock and Rene Magritte all casually hang together.
A few rooms over, visitors can find themselves in the company of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And a quick turn will bring an explosion of color into the world of Henri Matisse.
The third floor takes a break from paint and instead explores the achievements of the black and white camera lens.
Visitors can spy the prints from big names such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange in the exhibit, “California and the West,” which captures the beautiful diversity of the Golden State, from the wilderness of Yosemite to the concrete chaos of Los Angeles.
The photograph series “Rich and Poor” by Jim Goldberg drew a lot of attention on this floor as well. Placed in a hallway, the exhibit contains the images and handwritten notes of wealthier people on one side and those of the impoverished on the other.
While the photos were taken from 1977 to 1985 and show the social disparities of the time, the series seems just as poignant in San Francisco today, where the many homeless people on the street clash against the increasingly wealthy inhabitants of the city.
Continuing on in the museum, the fourth floor, while cleanly laid out, clearly disinterested many people with its simple abstract paintings, forms and images.
And with the rooms practically empty, the imposing monochrome geometric shapes stood eerily, reminiscent of the monoliths of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The fifth floor garnered much more attention with its pop art exhibits featuring Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who turned the art world on its head in the 1960s with their soup cans and comics.
The works of Chuck Close proved to be another crowd favorite on the floor. His large-scale portraits are almost paradoxical.
The paintings appear photorealistic from afar, but a closer look reveals smaller abstract color patterns, making each painting a delight to examine.
While the sixth floor showcased interesting German contemporary art as well as a graphic designer’s dreamland in the exhibition, “Typeface to Interface,” I’ll admit, after trekking through five floors, by the sixth, I was getting a bit tired. In fact, I found myself looking more at the people than the images. Opening weekend at SFMOMA had attracted a diverse collection of people and of all ages, including the tiniest of toddlers.
However, I particularly enjoyed the few Bay to Breakers participants that managed to make it into the museum and stumble around the exhibits in their bright attire.
After a few moments of rest, I finally gathered the strength to take on the seventh and final floor of the museum, where contemporary art brought forth its most bizarre. Here, I couldn’t help but smile at a crucified Jesus-frog statue hung in a corner, opposite a hanging shirt emblazoned with the words, “Blow Me.”
Oddly enough, on this floor, I encountered the museum’s most popular attraction – a giant metal dream catcher-like piece equipped with bells. In the floors below, visitors often only threw a glance at paintings by giants Salvador Dali and Edward Hopper—yet, somehow this piece managed to draw the largest crowd of the day, as a somber museum employee gently swayed the metal to jingle the bells. While the performance was really quite simple, it somehow elicited a massive round of applause from the crowd.
Tuckered out after spending over three hours in the grand building and finding myself further perplexed by both the art and the people, I decided to call it a day.
Without a doubt, the new museum beautifully displays the evolution of art over the last century. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Bay Area artists throughout the floors—it really showed the role of the San Francisco Bay Area in forming many of these artists.
However, as I left the building and walked into the crowded street, I couldn’t help think of the irony of a new art museum in a city that very few artists can afford to live in anymore.
Contact Maura Turcotte at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.