Saturday, October 22, 2016

The New SFMOMA 2: Weird Feng Shui

On the top floor of the new SFMOMA, there is an outdoor balcony where you are greeted by ominous signage.

There are a few sculptures along a narrow walkway that stretches across most of the eastern side of the building.

In the L.A. Times, Christopher Hawthorne wrote: "Outside, as a presence in the cityscape, the Snohetta tower, clad in rippling off-white panels of fiberglass-reinforced polymer, is even more apologetic about both its ambition and its bulk. It is everywhere shaved off and pinned back, forever curving away from you as you stand on its one of extensive outdoor terraces and try to assess its scale and civic personality.

The contrast between that attitude and the way the other new towers in San Francisco's thickening skyline carry themselves is extreme. As you look east from the higher of the two terraces, on the seventh floor, you are confronted with the aggressively large and broad-shouldered dark-glass form of a new 26-story office building at 2nd and Howard streets, designed by Thomas Phifer and leased by LinkedIn. The SFMOMA tower is by comparison all stooping form and retreating volume."

Hawthorne continues: "The unfortunate symbolism of this relationship — the cultural building practically tripping over itself to stand down and out of the way, the new commercial buildings blithely taking up as much space in the sky as they can — seems typical of the balance of power in the new, money-drenched San Francisco. (The arts are not so much on the run here — how could they be, when there is so much wealth on so many boards of trustees? — as keenly aware of their place in the pecking order.)"

At the end of the 7th floor terrace, instead of a public exit/entrance that would allow for the smooth circulation of museum attendees, there is a clumsy sign insisting you retrace your steps to exit, an example of bad feng shui which is unfortunately mirrored in a number of the galleries.

The stairways on the Third Street side of the structure have been eliminated, except for the first couple of floors, so to move from one level to another you have the choice of a set of elevators, or a series of long, narrow staircases that are wedged into the new wing. All I could think of was what a mess it would be in an earthquake.

On the third floor, there is another outdoor space framed by the nation's largest "Living Wall," which I was looking forward to except that the terrace itself is so narrow one feels hemmed in rather than liberated.

Next to the Living Wall is the Alexander Calder Motion Lab, housing a huge collection of Calder mobiles collected by Donald Fisher.

"Motion Lab" is a misnomer, though. None of the mobiles are moving, which sort of defeats the purpose of kinetic sculpture.

Next Installment: A few of our favorite things at SFMOMA.


sfwillie said...

How depressing! Part 1 left us with the joyous challenge of how best to trash Agnes Martin. Part 2 reminds us that SF has become mere quick-cash real estate.

Your pics remind me of Davies Concert Hall--done on the cheap. Mobiles that compete with people for head space? This is pretend. Just like Candlestick was a pretend baseball stadium and Muni Metro is a pretend subway.

The high blank walls of the narrow staircases... I don't know what Agnes Martin would call that hue, but it's common name is "Landlord White." They could have borrowed some Necco Wafers from Davies, at least.

The Louvre, and especially Musee d'Orsay would be worth a visit even if they contained no artworks. It seems that folks had a similar fondness for the pre-Fisher SFMOMA.

... from the same bureaucracy that brought us Millennium Tower!

Unknown said...

On Saturday night, I saw Mizoguchi's classic film "Ugetsu" at the new Phyllis Wattis Theater, which you no longer enter from the lobby.

It's now accessible only from Minna Street and from the get-go at the entrance, poorly designed half stairs and a sloped pavement for wheelchair users, this part of SFMOMA is askew.

I do like the tiny light bulbs against a wall at the entrance, tho.

Inside the theater lobby, past the okay ticketing area, the space is choppy and angular and gives off bad vibes.

There were two, maybe three, museum staffers to direct me to the restroom then into the theater, before the flick and during it when I had take a pee break.

The auditorium is vastly improved with black wooden slats buffered btwn the exits and side walls. Much warmer environmental feel.

With the new cool grey cushioned seats and thick backs that barely reached my shoulders, I enjoyed the film for the second time.

Oh, there are also cup holders on the back of seats and folks were allowed to take in drinks from the bar in the theater's lobby.

All the bad lines and cuts of the entrance and lobby spaces are easy to accept, given the comfort of the auditorium and the films of SFMOMA and the San Francisco Film Society's much-needed and greatly appreciated "Modern Cinema" series.

Civic Center said...

Dear Petrelis:

Thanks for the report. Most people don't even know the auditorium exists, glad to hear there's been an upgrade.