Thursday, October 20, 2016
The New SFMOMA 1: Admiring Les Femmes
Last month I was the guest of my friend Patrick Vaz for a first look at the newly expanded SFMOMA, which has tripled in size in order to house the modern art collection of the late Donald Fisher, who bequeathed his fortune in art to the institution on his deathbed in 2009. We entered through the Third Street lobby, and noticed that the most striking part of the original Mario Botta design from 1995, the striped, stone staircase, had been replaced with a maple Scandinavian Modern stairway that strangely diminishes the space.
In an interesting review of the new building by L.A. Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne, he writes about the change: “Taking its place is a much smaller staircase by Snohetta [the Norwegian architects of the expanded building], clad in maple, that leads directly from the new lobby down to the old one. The really striking quality of that moment of aggression toward the Botta building is that is seems altogether out of character with the rest of the addition. In almost every other way the Snohetta design is handsome, carefully intelligent, self-effacing and agreeable.”
The new ticketing lobby is now on the second floor, and it looks a bit like an ugly small city airport.
The lighting, in particular, makes one want to flee.
The lobby does allow for an aerial view of a huge Richard Serra sculpture, Sequence, that engulfs the secondary, Howard Street lobby, which you can walk through without paying admission.
Our plan was to survey the entire, seven-story museum, but before suffering from art fatigue, we decided to worship two highlights, starting with SFMOMA’s version of the Mona Lisa, Henri Matisse’s 1905 painting, Femme au chapeau.
Then it was up an elevator to the fourth floor where there was supposed to be an octagonal room devoted to paintings by Agnes Martin.
To get to Agnes, one has to wade through lots of Ellsworth Kelly and other modernist dudes, which is either annoying or inspiring depending on your point of view.
Agnes Martin seems to be having a cultural moment right now, with a huge retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum that has been traveling around the world receiving rapturous reviews.
Half the fun of the little Agnes Martin chapel at SFMOMA was watching people indulging in their own worshipful rites, including the new sacrament of the Selfie. After our own obeisance at the Agnes Altar, we were ready to take on the rest of the museum.