San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

A trip through the new SFMOMA
Richard Serra at the new SFMOMA
Agnes Martin at the new SFMOMA
A trip through the new SFMOMA

Took a quick spin through the SFMOMA this morning (along with a stroller and baby, which is why it was so quick....), and wanted to capture some of my thoughts/experiences before they leave my head. For those wanting more of a tour of the space and collection: I found this article a solid starting point. 

Overall, it was a beautiful experience. The new addition by Snohetta is nicely blended with the old space, adding warmth, light, and a sense of openness. As compared to the NY MOMA: I thought this seemed like a better place to appreciate art. The space fell to the background in a different way. The light was warm. It felt natural and very California.

What I loved:

The Agnes Martin collection: Part of the Fisher collection, there is a selection of Agnes Martin's work hung in a small room, which feels almost like a chapel. As a long-time admirer of her work, this was an incredibly moving way to experience it. I spent a lot of time perched in the center of the room, soaking it in. It was emotive, immersive, and helped me appreciate the detail of her work in a new way.

Model Behavior: A collection of 50 architectural models developed by Snohetta in the early stages of the building's design. The range of material and technique struck me here, as well as the blending of analog and digital production methods. Even the models that were produced by a laser cutter had a sense of rawness to them, a touch of the hand that I didn't expect. I think this translated through to the final spaces, which were warm and felt inhabited, positive, and energetic. 

Sequence by Richard Serra:  Serra's 2006 work is shaping up to be the most instagrammed-spot in the SFMOMA, but it is so much more than that. Make sure to walk through it without your camera out. For lack of a more sophisticated term: it's delightful. It's also intense, textural, and even meditative. It reminds me a bit of wandering through certain back areas of the Disney Concert Hall. And the gallery it is set within has some great steps, similar to those at the Prada store in Soho. I love to see how people inhabit spaces like this: there was lots of reading going on.

Wall color: Just a small note here, but the paint choices in some of the galleries were quite thoughtful. Not just basic white, but a range of whites, creams, and grays. There is a small gallery on the second floor with an exquisite collection of drawings on paper (this was one of my favorite areas), and it is painted the perfect gray: falls into the backdrop so it is almost unnoticeable, until I realized how unusual it was for this sort of setting. It made that collection feel very personal, and brought out the detail in the works. 

A few critiques:

Interior/exterior relationship: Architecturally, much of the focus of the new addition is on the exterior massing and building skin- not to speak for the architects, from the sketch models on display, this seemed to be the driving force. From inside the space, the beauty of the cascading wall is completely lost, and doesn't feel like it translates to the interior. They exist separately, which feels further emphasized by the deep walls and window ledges (which are beautiful, and provide incredible sightlines). I was hoping for more connectivity in material and experience. 

The green wall: While quite impressive in scale, and definitely visually captivating, the plantings and overall experience fell flat to me (as green walls often do).  The plants are all native (great), but the planting scheme and the experience of the courtyard did not feel particularly modern or forward-looking to me. Living walls are difficult, and this is a beautiful effort (and worth reading about the details of): I'm just waiting for someone to reinvent this entire concept in a way that feels more artistic. The view down the length of the courtyard is quite nice, and a great place to experience the building skin and light play.

The museum shop: Felt very typical and expected. They had a nice assortment of art books and a large kids section, along with some homewares and the requisite scarves, purses, jewelry for art ladies. On top of that, gray industrial grade flooring and glass shelves. The assortment felt like a version of what MOMA in New York has always done (and put their stamp on), I would have liked to see this be much more interesting in assortment, presentation, and focus. Maybe an incredible shop put together by a firm like Commune, or a focus on California modernity. As with most museum shops, felt pretty separate from the collection and the gallery experience.

Details: I saw a few things that weren't as precise as I would have expected: some dead planters on the southern face of the building outside the Serra gallery, window marketing with lots of air bubbles under it, some (friendly!) employees who told me I couldn't feed the baby in the galleries (turns out, this is permitted). Also, the font on the ticketing page of the website seemed a bit dated. I'll chalk all of this up to newness. Overall, a lovely experience.

For more details, go to I ended up upgrading my day ticket to a membership, and am looking forward to visiting again, sans baby and with more time. 

A trip through the new SFMOMA
Noguchi at the new SFMOMA
Richard Serra at the new SFMOMA

Photos by Alexandra Sklar for The Merchant Home, 2016.