Closed for almost two and a half years now, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will reopen next year -- May 14, to be exact -- at nearly three times its original size. The addition by architecture firm Snøhetta is now visible from Third Street, rising above the 1995 Mario Botta building like a rippling cruise ship improbably docked in narrow alleys of SOMA.
The museum, which was cagey about an official date until now, made the announcement in conjunction with the launch of a newly-designed and extremely pared-down sfmoma.org, complete with their very own eponymous font.
At a hard hat tour on Wednesday, members of the board, the museum’s president Neal Benezra, curator Gary Garrels and Snøhetta principal architect Craig Dykers enumerated the many changes the period of closure spelled for the museum (and its collection).
While the physical expansion took place, the museum raised $610 million in contributions from 500 donors, which covers construction costs and triples the museum’s endowment. A simultaneous campaign to expand the collection gathered 3,000 artworks to fill the new 460,000-square-foot museum. (For comparison, the MoMA in New York measures at 630,000 square feet and the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will check in at 83,000 square feet.)
This mass of newly-acquired and promised work is in addition to the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, which consists of over 1,100 works on loan to SFMOMA in a 100-year partnership that will eventually mingle the Gap founders’ postwar and contemporary art with the museum’s own holdings.
But perhaps the biggest news was the smallest number related to the expansion: zero, the new price of admission for museum visitors age 18 and younger. If this spells a change in ticket prices for adults ($18 before the close), it wasn’t a topic of conversation at the hard hat tour, but it is perhaps a hopeful step towards what other museums like Los Angeles' The Broad and UCLA's Hammer Museum have adopted in recent years: free admission for all.
Then again, numbers only express so much. Inside SFMOMA, the old and new buildings blend fairly seamlessly. The old Botta atrium remains intact, save for a new, singular staircase of blonde wood. Two giant paintings by New York-based artist Julie Mehretu will grace the walls on either side of those stairs, which lead to Schwab Hall, the new grand lobby of the museum.
If the Snøhetta building marks a vertical expansion, it also marks a lateral one, with a new museum entrance on Howard Steet alongside the street-level Roberts Family Gallery, where the Fishers’ monumental Richard Serra Sequence now resides. This adds up to nearly 45,000 square feet of publicly-accessible space, all before a ticket check becomes necessary. Minna and Natoma Streets are now arteries to the museum instead of corridors to Third Street, a look towards the future as the nearby Transbay Terminal nears completion in 2017.
The words “open” and “warmer” and “less imposing” were bandied about during Wednesday’s hard hat tour while Benezra spoke excitedly of new lighting systems, column-free galleries and an outdoor living wall. Meanwhile, in the old Botta elevators, signage from the museum’s last exhibitions in 2013 (remember Christian Marclay’s The Clock?) remain as a reminder of just how long SFMOMA, despite its pop-up projects in other Bay Area spaces and institutions, has been absent from the scene.
Though it might be a bit premature to start our own countdown clocks (the reopening is 205 days away), Benezra's excitement was contagious. SFMOMA’s reopening will mark a massive change in the Bay Area arts landscape, a welcome return after what has become a heartbreaking separation from some of the museum’s most iconographic and much-loved works. (I’ve been missing Agnes Martin in particular.)
This excitement is tempered with the hope that the influx of new art, new money and new square footage doesn’t completely obliterate the SFMOMA of old, as the museum’s website seems to have erased all traces of previous exhibitions. Seriously, if you can show me how to find information on past shows, I’d really like to know.
Update 10/28/2015: An SFMOMA representative assured me, "The site is launching in phases leading up to the opening. We'd like to confirm that past exhibitions and events will be published by the end of this year." Whew.