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Newly Modern SFMOMA / San Francisco

SFMOMA’s newly designed and greatly expanded spaces by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta make the formerly fortress-like Mario Botta building more porous. The new museum will open to the public May 14.

Among architectural moves to that end: a second grand entrance on a street perpendicular to the museum’s original entrance; and an indoor area just inside the museum proper that will contain a rotating series of large-scale artworks and towering wooden amphitheater-style seating upon which visitors can freely mingle with a few hits of big art nearby, outside any “paywall.”

A massive, occluding stairway has been removed from the original entry atrium and replaced with a much more modest staircase, permitting far more light to pour through not only the atrium itself but also into upper-level floors. The art showcased upon opening includes broader views of the Museum’s collection in new and old galleries, along with three new floors concentrating on the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, on loan for one hundred years. Three rooms are given over to Ellsworth Kelly’s works — timely, given his recent passing. Other rooms cluster works by Guston, Twombly, Warhol, and Chuck Close, among those of other modern American masters, and a half dozen paintings by Agnes Martin, one of the few female artists represented here.

Another “Fisher” floor is dedicated to twentieth-century German and British artists, with Kiefer, Polke and Richter dominating. The other new galleries are impressively tall and spare, and remain more intimate than intimidating, but the space for Martin’s work is exceptional: a small, bright, chapel-like room, set apart from distractions of other work and spaces. An additional new floor is dedicated to photo works, another set of galleries features architecture and design, and yet another set of spaces focuses on “newer” media-based works, together reaffirming a commitment to already well-established creative disciplines.

A slight orientation toward the contemporary manifests in a newly dedicated project space, initially spotlighting a large-scale sculpture by Leonor Antunes (using some of her familiar materials) along with upcoming live public programs and a film series that will play works of contemporary directors against auteur-ish masters from the Criterion Collection. The space, in sum, is expansive, consolidating modernist holdings while veering toward later-era works.

by Brian Karl