Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco opened its doors on Christmas Day to the public with an offer of free admission to the year-old building, which prompted a huge line that snaked across the large stone plaza in front of the museum.

The $47.5 million building consists of the brick facade of a 19th Century electrical substation designed by Willis Polk that was somehow integrated with two dark, torqued cubes on their sides by starchitect of the moment Daniel Libeskind.

From the outside, the design looks rather fun, but inside it's something of a disaster, with most of the space devoted to a large lobby and sloping walls that feel more claustrophobic than liberating, not to mention impractical for displaying art. In its ugliness and uselessness, the building's only competitor in awful new San Francisco architecture is probably the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender What-Have-You Center that opened on upper Market Street in 2002.

The security at the entrance was also extremely invasive, though the guards were for the most part a jolly crew.

We were given a timed entry sticker for a Maurice Sendak exhibit that was scheduled for two hours after our arrival, but there was no way we were going to wait that long, so we didn't see any "Where The Wild Things Are" sketches. We probably never will, since this is not a building that's high on the list for a return visit.


namastenancy said...

The building truly is awful (IMHO). However, I am not a fan of most modern museum architecture and was more than glad when the plan for a new museum in Berkeley was put on hold as it looked like a real disaster for anybody wanting to look at art. I am also not supportive of architecture being more about the architect's ego and not about the use and function of a building. Putting those bizarre shaped cubes on one end, sans any way to see them from a distance was not a good decision (again, IMHO). It's not a good use of space but they have had some great exhibits. The one about artists looking at Genesis was beautiful and the on-going project of the woman scribe hand letting the Torah is awesome. I'm a calligrapher (of sorts) and her calligraphy skills are world class. I saw the Sendak show when it opened and loved it but then, I like his dark humor and monsters. I sort of suspected that having the museum open on Christmas Day would bring the crowds so I didn't even try to go but I went the day before Christmas and had the place almost all to myself. Like you said, the guards were really thorough but good humored. I'd rather be safe than sorry, given the times we live in.
Here's hoping that you had a great Christmas!

Rachel said...

Sorry you had a bad experience. We were there, too, but much earlier. You should check out their evening programs, they are not that full and some of them are really good. Plus you'd get a chance to go to the exhibit before it closed. Happy New Year!