A rendering of the soon-to-be-complete new SFMOMA.
The museum will unveil a major expansion in May 2016, and Condé Nast Travelergot a peek at the new space.
On a rare rainy day in San Francisco last month, a group of museum patrons and partners met at the expansive new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, better known as SFMOMA. Up Natoma Street in a revived SoMa (the moniker for the formerly seedy south of Market Street neighborhood), a small crowd gathered beneath an overhang of the yet-to-be opened 10-story structure, erected at the back of the museum’s original Mario Botta building. The rippling white façade (made from 1,300 panels of FRP, or fiberglass reinforced polymer, with reflective silicate crystals), a gesture to the waters of the Bay, rose above as the group entered the building on a private tour. Emerging into the Roberts Family Gallery, the group was quiet as if crossing the threshold of a sanctuary. Richard Serra’s Sequence, still encased in plastic as they finish construction, stood in the center of the glass-walled space, which will serve as a public gathering area off Howard Street. The work was still affecting, even veiled by plastic.
By the time the museum reopens on May 14, it will have been closed nearly three years for the major expansion by architectural firm Snøhetta—winners of the World Architecture Award, among others, for projects including Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Oslo’s Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. By the numbers, it's easy to see why the expansion took so long: The 235,000 square-foot addition spans an entire city block and is the size of a football field. Nearly tripling in exhibition space, SFMOMA will have seven viewing floors with areas specifically dedicated to their acclaimed photography collection, American abstraction, Pop, Minimalism, German art, and works from the Fisher Collection (a private collection amassed by Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher), on loan for a century. A new commissioning program will launch with a work from Dutch felt artist Claudy Jongstra, followed by work from abstract artist Julie Mehretu in 2017. The program will also include performance work.
California's landscape plays a major role throughout the expansion. Scaling through the galleries are hidden maple staircases that reflect Telegraph Hill’s Filbert Street Steps, and a matching staircase will replace Botta’s original in the main entrance, allowing for more light from his signature oculus (the matte on glassy black striped tiling still characterizes the lobby). Up on the third floor, there’s a new sculpture terrace devoted to Alexander Calder; the largest living wall in the United States sowed with all native California plants serves as a backdrop. Another outdoor space on the seventh floor offers a glimpse into the conservators’ studio and a view over the city.
The museum has also revamped its dining program. A new restaurant from three Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee will be open until 11 p.m., even after the galleries close. Called In Situ, the restaurant features dishes from big name chefs like René Redzepi, Alice Waters, and Thomas Keller, the recipes for which Chef Lee has faithfully traveled to learn. Two other dining options are San Francisco’s own Sightglass Coffee on the third floor and Café 5, which serves light California-fusion fare, on the fifth.
The museum has come a long way since its foundation in 1935 on just one floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building. And even with the renovations still underway, SFMOMA is abuzz with energy. It's not just surrounding the museum: the notoriously creative city is finally meeting its match in arts institutions. This year alone will bring a new home for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 500 Capp Street (the new museum in artist David Ireland’s former home and studio), FraenkelLAB (the experimental gallery from the city’s well-established Fraenkel Gallery), and Pace Gallery’s new Art + Technology program launching in Menlo Park next month. Among them, SFMOMA is the mothership marking the Bay Area’s arts and culture renaissance.