In an astonishing journey channeling Gulliver, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art started off in the Lilliput of the fourth floor of the Veterans Building to arrive now to the Brobdingnagnian grandeur of “new SFMOMA.” Museum director Neal Benezra’s dream is now reality.
Today’s press preview of the vastly expanded museum that will open to the public on May 14, showed off results of the three-year, $610 million project by the famed Norwegian architectural firm, Snøhetta. The 235,000-square-foot expansion includes seven floors of gallery space and three levels for administration departments, rising above Swiss-Italian architect Mario Botta original building. (The project budget includes $245 million for the museum’s endowment.)
Three times the size of Botta’s building, the new combination has 460,000 square feet of space, of which 170,000 square feet serve as indoor and outdoor gallery space. Numbers are abstract, but when you venture through the new SFMOMA, your watch and aching feet will tell you that you are now in the Louvre/British Museum/Metropolitan class of museum marathon, although those giants have 652,300, 1 million, and 2 million square feet respectively. (SFMOMA claims to be the “largest museum of its kind,” although MOMA in New York has 630,000 square foot exhibit space; perhaps the San Francisco claim is for the number of art in the collection – seen and yet unseen.)
The old and the new building go well together, however different they may be, the reason explained by Snøhetta partner Craig Dykers, who told Dezeen magazine: “We were very interested in becoming a dance partner. You don’t want to copy your dance partner, you want to be complimentary to it so you don’t step on each other’s toes.”
Besides the overall space, individual galleries are unusually spacious, even when exhibiting a single item. Greatly expanded restaurant and outdoor facilities make it all comfortable – something much appreciated after the hike through exhibit spaces.
To continue with figures: there will be 1,900 works on display at the opening, including three floors from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, featuring Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly, William Kentridge, Anselm Kiefer, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol. Also, there is a “living wall” of close to 20,000 plants, designed by David Brenner of Habitat Horticulture. More about that – and of an absolutely necessary second visit – later.
Is everything grand at the new SFMOMA? Yes, with one exception, admittedly from a subjective point of view. Having suffered through “rebranding” at the Asian Art Museum (with a $600,000 logo of the upside-down “A”) and the San Francisco Opera (a million-dollar squished word “opera” as the company emblem, corrected by David Gockley with the free and appropriate image of the Opera House’s chandelier), I am disappointed to see SFMOMA’s rebranding, even if supposedly made in-house – which means no separate budget item, but still costs money.
No idea what the “MO” superscript indicates above “SF,” and then subscript “MA.” Does “museum of” trump “modern art”? Only rebranders know, and this is their explanation:
“The letters oscillate between a contracted and an expanded version. The two states actively respond to different formats and content, allowing the identity to become a conceptual lens through which the program of the museum is experienced. In short, the logo is designed to be as versatile and dynamic as the program of the institution.”