GUESTS AT SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART GALA ENJOYED A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE OPENING SHOW
After a three-year transformation, when the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) reopens on May 14, it will be the country’s largest modern and contemporary art museum. Of a series of pre-opening celebrations, the biggest by far was the Art Bash on April 29, 2016, which attracted more than 2,600 art lovers.
Attendees got a first look at the 1,900 objects from the museum’s massive collection. On display in nineteen distinctive shows, they include 270 works from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection and 600 of the 3,000 works donated by patrons to the permanent collection during the Campaign for Art.
THE NEWLY EXPANDED SFMOMA
The Norwegian firm Snøhetta oversaw the ambitious $305 million expansion and renovation. With the new 10-story building that includes seven floors of galleries, the museum doubled its size and tripled its exhibition space.
The project was inspired when Doris Fisher and her husband, the late Donald Fisher (founders of The Gap), agreed to a l00-year loan to the museum of their 1,100-work collection, which required additional gallery space.
Now the museum sprawls over 235,000 square feet, including 170,000 square feet of gallery space, up from the previous 70,000. New York’s Whitney has only 50,000 square feet of gallery space and the city’s MoMA has 125,000, though the Diller Scofidio + Renfro expansion will bring the total number of gallery feet there to 175,000, slightly more than SFMOMA.
A BRIEF HISTORY
This was the second time I’d attended a SFMOMA opening. I was present in January 1995, when the museum debuted its then-new 151 Third Street location in the South of Market district (SOMA), adjacent to Yerba Buena Gardens and the Moscone Convention Center.
It was a gutsy move, since the area then was known for its flophouses, old warehouses, and dilapidated buildings. The board privately funded the project with $63 million, and Swiss architect Mario Botta came up with the bold design that put the museum on the map. Today the area is prime property, with luxury hotels, galleries, and restaurant.
THE FISHER COLLECTION
A main new attraction is the world-famous, 1,100-work Fisher Collection, of which 270 pieces are on exhibition. “To have this collection live under our roof will immediately raise the level of this institution,” said Neil Benezra, Museum Director since 2002.
Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher, who began collecting contemporary art in 1969, were named among the world’s top ten collectors by ARTnews in 1993. They acquired career-spanning works by such seminal artists as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Serra, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Chuck Close, Claes Oldenburg, and Richard Diebenkorn.
The Fishers had initially planned to build their own museum in the Presidio area of San Francisco, but locals opposed the loss of any parkland. So in 2009, the couple entered into a partnership with SFMOMA to display the collection on a 100-year loan.
Ultimately, SFMOMA seems the better choice, as it is centrally located and accessible to more viewers than the Presidio location would have been. The Fisher Collection will be displayed along with pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, and once a decade, the museum will present a monographic display of the collection.
The invitation read “Dress: Out of the Box Attire,” which allowed much room for interpretation, and we were warned to wear comfortable shoes for traversing the huge museum. When I arrived, the donor dinner with artists had just ended, so I had the good fortune of mingling with artists such as Chuck Close and Brice Marden.
Before heading to the party, I was determined to see as much as possible ahead of the crowd. I started off with the Fisher collection, and walked briskly through gallery after gallery of blue-chip art. I was awed by the breadth of the collections and the vastness of the museum.
A friend registered 12,000 steps on her iPhone this night. It is impossible to cover the entire museum in one visit, so plan accordingly to avoid “museum fatigue.”
Be sure to visit the new John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography, now the country’s largest photography exhibition space, with a 15,000-square-foot series of galleries and collection spaces that contain nearly 18,000 objects spanning all 180 years of the medium’s history.
When I visit museums, I always like to see area artists who might be represented elsewhere minimally or not at all, so I considered the inaugural installation, Art of Northern California, a must-see. Other shows featuring local artists are planned.
RICHARD SERRA SCULPTURE DOMINATES
One of the standout pieces of the Fisher Collection is Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006), a 13-foot, 214-ton steel sculpture in one of the free public spaces.
The sculpture, visible from the street, replaces a fire station and business college. The massive piece had to be put in place first, and then walls and a ceiling were built around it.
THE ART BASH PARTY OPENING CELEBRATION
More than 2,600 privileged guests enjoyed a grand party underwritten by Christie’s Auction and Cadillac at the much-anticipated SFMOMA reopening, which certainly lived up to the high expectations.
At 7 p.m., the doors opened to an international roster of VIPS, artists, museum dignitaries, directors, curators, collectors, gallerists, designers, and art lovers. Although the crowd was huge, in such a vast open space there wasn’t the usual loud museum crush.
The atmosphere was convivial and lively, with people grouped in animated and extended conversation. It was obvious that many of the guests were part of an arts community whose members know one another.
The museum’s seven floors offered room after room of activities for the opening gala, including performances, live music, DJ sets—and art viewing, of course! The whirlwind of activity, plus the size of the place, made it necessary for us to use cell phones to keep track of friends.
Food and drink were provided by McCalls Catering, in half a dozen spots that designer Stanlee Gatti had dressed up. Lavish food stations and bars were set up on several floors. On the fifth floor terrace, the main buffet included roast chicken, beef, pasta, and pizza, plus ice cream.
SEEN IN THE CROWD
The party drew everyday art lovers, deep-pocketed patrons and VIPs, and board members.
THE NEW GOLD RUSH
The Bay is having a modern “Gold Rush,” with people flocking here once again to make their fortunes. The number of newly minted tech billionaires and the amount of their wealth is staggering.
While the cost of housing has skyrocketed for locals, on the plus side tech wealth has also created new jobs and opportunities in financial services, marketing, venture capital, and other areas that have attracted so many young, educated, and affluent newcomers,
SFMOMA’S INFLUENCE AND IMPACT
Some international mega-galleries have already arrived and/or expanded to cater to this market. The John Berggruen Gallery, on Grant Street for 45 years, is moving to Hawthorne Street next door to the new Larry Gagosian gallery (opening May 18), one of 16 in his worldwide empire. New York’s Pace Gallery has also opened in Palo Alto, conveniently close to the Silicon Valley crowd.
Two art fairs have also been part of the recent art boom: Art Miami’s Art Silicon Valley/San Francisco, which debuted in 2014, and the three-year-old FOG Art+Design Fair a fundraiser for SFMOMA, both of which attracted the young, affluent crowds the art world always seems to be courting.
In this civic-minded City by the Bay, support for the new SFMOMA has been overwhelming. The museum’s annual Modern Ball, May 12, has already sold out, as have opening day museum tickets.
In addition, in celebration of the May 14 Opening Day, neighborhood cultural institutions are throwing open their doors for free entry. Participants include the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, Mexican Museum, Children’s Creativity Museum, California Historical Society, and others.
The SFMOMA transformation will no doubt continue to attract other cultural institutions and businesses, making the SOMA area even more vibrant. Most assuredly, the SFMOMA will become a national and global destination for culture and art lovers.
SFMOMA opens to the public on Saturday, May 14. Read more at sfmoma.org.
Photos by Drew Altizer, Henrik Kam, Iwan Baan, Jon McNeal, Joe Fletcher, Snøhetta, and SFMOMA.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.