The new addition to San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art announces its intentions boldly as you approach it. Mario Botta's 1995 structure is still there, the red brick comforting, the white and gray stone oculus adding some postmodern pizzazz, but looming behind is a sinuous ten-story structure just completed in May at the cost of $305 million that screams "world-class cultural institution within."

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If you walk around the building, you see a massive metal sculpture by Richard Serra, one of the major artists of the last half-century, on the first floor, placement that suggests the quality of the contents within.

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The design by Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta gives the SF MoMA 40% more gallery space than its New York namesake and rival, and a major acquisition campaign that accompanied the addition provided a significant amount of art to put on those walls.

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Snøhetta crafted a building meant to evoke the "waters and mists" of San Francisco, and there are several outdoor spaces that afford visitors impressive views of the city and let them take occasional breaks from looking at the museum's collection of 20th and 21st century art. Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian called the structure "a gigantic meringue with a hint of Ikea; Roberta Smith of the New York Times praised Snøhetta's work as "a beautiful design that promises to work as well."

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This visitor would have liked more small spaces, especially on the top two floors, which have a mind-numbing sameness. Looking up at the staircases feels almost as daunting as climbing one of the steep streets on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

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The Reina Sofia, Madrid's museum of modern and contemporary art, devotes a number of smaller spaces to film, including one to Hitchcock's thriller "Rear Window." It'd be fun to see snippets of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" or Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" in the city where they're set.

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The 1,100-work collection of Doris and Donald Fisher, who founded The Gap, forms the core of the SFMOMA's holdings. Under the terms of the family's 100-year loan of their art to the museum, three-quarters of the art in the galleries the couple endowed must come from their collection, which includes numerous art-world superstars, among them Chuck Close. The Fisher galleries are large and loft-like to afford adequate space for the art.

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The Fishers also bought numerous works from Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly and Gerhard Richter, all of whom feature prominently in the SFMOMA. Kelly gets four galleries to himself, while Calder's sculptures have an airy room flanked by two patios in one of the 19 exhibitions with which the museum is celebrating the opening of the new building.

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The SFMOMA also features the work of local artists who've made it into the contemporary canon. Wayne Thiebaud, now in his 90s, made his reputation with his 1960s paintings of cakes, but he's produced a diverse body of works that includes portraits and landscapes and continues to paint at a high level, as evidenced by his recent work "Canyon Mountains."

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Richard Diebenkorn grew up and went to art school in San Francisco and lived in Berkeley from 1955 to 1966 before moving to Santa Monica, where he began the Ocean Park series for which he is best known. Several of the 135 paintings in the series are at the SFMOMA, including Ocean Park #67.

The museum also houses the Pritzker Center for Photography with its 17,800 works, and most of the third floor is devoted to the medium. The museum celebrates one of the strengths of its collection in the current exhibition "California and the West," which includes iconic images such as this one of Yosemite Falls that Carleton Watkins made in 1878.

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Group f.64, founded in San Francisco in 1932, included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston, and it remains one of the most fruitful collaborations in the history of photography. The museum features a number of works by these artists, including Lange's 1936 image "Mexicans bound for the Imperial Valley to harvest peas. Near Bakersfield, Calif."


One of the most celebratory images in the museum is this shot by Michael Jang of the Golden Gate Bridge on its 50th anniversary in 1987. The bridge was so packed that municipal authorities worried it might collapse, a couple reminisced as they looked at the photograph. It's a reminder of a more raucous, diverse San Francisco, if one that couldn't afford an institution like the SFMOMA.

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