San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art reopens to the public this Saturday, May 14, after a three-year closure for the construction of a glitzy, new $305 million extension, nearly tripling its exhibition size and making it the largest contemporary and modern art space in North America.
Adding to the critical mass developing around San Francisco’s art scene, two heavyweight galleries are also opening this week, side-by-side, across the street, a new Gagosian Gallery and the John Berggruen Gallery, a Bay Area stalwart that is moving across town. These additions give the downtown area south of Market Street, which already features the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Jewish Center, and several significant smaller museums, a serious boost to the top echelon of the American art world.
Leading the charge behind the new extension is Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA since 2002. He commissioned Norwegian architects Snohetta to build the 10-story addition, which is conjoined behind the original Mario Botta-designed building (1995). The new wing looks something like an iceberg floating down Third Street and is inspired by the waters and fog of the San Francisco Bay. The surface is clad in undulating panels of white polymer, embedded with silicate crystals from Monterey County that catch the light, reflecting it differently throughout the day.
The structure is a provocative, modernist contrast with the clean geometry and heavy masonry of Botta’s original. Together the two buildings boast 170,000 square feet of exhibition space, 40% more room for displaying art than even New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Put simply, it’s a quantum leap that makes San Francisco a top international destination for art alone. As for the art, what's on display inside the new SFMOMA is champion’s league all the way. Some have described it as modern art on steroids. Adding considerably to this embarrassment of riches is the recent acquisition of the Fisher Collection (Gap founder Don Fisher), one of the world’s greatest private hoards of contemporary art with more than 1,100 works, 260 of which will be on display at the opening.
In total, an astounding 19 special exhibitions debut on Saturday. Visitors will be greeted on the ground floor by Richard Serra’s massive iron spiral sculptures. “German Art After 1960” will feature work from Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter; and the new third-floor Pritzker Center for Photography—the largest gallery, research and interpretive space devoted to the 180-year history of this medium in any U.S. art museum—will have a historic survey of Japanese photography. Elsewhere, artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, Paul Klee, Diane Arbus, Warhol and Picasso are solidly represented throughout.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit, including lunch or dinner at In Situ, Michelin three-starred chef Corey Lee’s new restaurant. Also compelling is the living wall, which features 24 species native to the area (16,000 plants) and is the nation’s largest such wall at three stories high and a half block long. The reopened Museum is also very welcoming to the public with free access to the 45,000 square feet of gallery space on the ground floor and free admission to all facilities for visitors 18 and younger.
Should you find you're not thoroughly exhausted by all the possibilities after a day at the new SFMOMA, head across the street to the John Berggruen Gallery or the new Gagosian to check out it’s first show, “Plane.Site” (through August 27), which explores the dynamic interchange between sculpture and drawing with work from Richard Diebenkorn, Cy Twombly and Louise Bourgeois.