San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) – San Francisco

Modern Times

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) – San Francisco

Visited: August 2018

While not exactly connoisseurs of Modern Art, Kim and I were offered tickets to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from his daughter, who also happens to be a member and big fan of the museum.  We, of course, accepted.

On our overseas excursions, Kim and I (along with our better halves) have visited a handful of modern art museums together and have usually walked out unanimously unimpressed.  For example, after a quick walkabout of the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, my better half Tracy looked at the “Exit” sign and stated, “That’s the best thing I’ve seen here today.”

Now to be fair, I did have a positive experience when visiting The Broad in Los Angeles a couple of years back, so I hoped SFMOMA could provide some more modern art positive memories. 

Opening in January 1935, SFMOMA does have the distinction of being “the first museum on the West Coast devoted solely to modern and contemporary art.”  The museum’s original location was on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue.

In 1995, on the 60th anniversary of the museum’s inauguration, SFMOMA opened to the public at its new location.  A major expansion of SFMOMA was completed in 2016, and the museum reopened to great fanfare. (two photos from internet) 


Its current collection numbers more than 33,000 items, including paintings, sculptures, photography, architecture, design, and media arts.  Encompassing a whopping 170,000 square feet, SFMOMA is one of the largest museums in the United States, and one of the largest modern art galleries in the world.

Kim and I put on our “Limited Knowledge of Modern Art” critic hats and entered the spacious lobby dominated by a large mural with lines and curves that looked suspiciously like some of my doodling I did during astronomy class in college.  Surprisingly (to me), I liked it.


Since things were looking up, I decided to look up and saw a skylight with light filtering through what looked like a bridge suspended (as I would find out) many stories above us.  Sure enough, we discovered that we were viewing the Oculus Bridge.

Entering the first room on the second floor we found ourselves in the French Connections portion of the gallery.  Looking around for a portrait of Gene Hackman, I instead stood in front of a painting by Henri Matisse.  It was either a landscape or a deformed horse running though a maze of plants.  Art is interpretation, is it not?

I did enjoy his La fille aux yeux verts (The Girl With Green Eyes), although I couldn’t seem to get Mary Poppins out of my head.


Artists from other countries were featured in the following rooms.  German Max Beckmann’s landscape of Cannes was more in line with what I like.

I really enjoyed seeing Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s Zapatistas.  Although not trained soldiers, Zapatistas were among “the most courageous fighters in the Mexican Revolution.”  This was more like it.

At first I was not impressed with this painting, but after gazing at it for awhile, I started to like it.  Coincidentally, the Yves Tangiu painting is named Arrières-Pensées (Second Thoughts).

The reason Kim and I were in San Francisco in the first place was to attend the Stanford-San Diego State (aka Harvard of the West) football game the following night.  Kim was decked out in Aztec colors as he looked at this painting by Mark Rothko.  Who says life does not imitate art?

Joan Brown’s Noel in the Kitchen depicts a dog about ready to devour a child.  I might have misinterpreted this painting.

I believe the guy on the right is contemplating what the picture on the left depicts.  We moved on.

I actually looked up Leaky Ride for Dr. Leaky when I got home.  I had surmised the piece was actually the Starship Enterprise being thrust into space by engines consisting of Number 2 pencils.  As usual, I was incorrect, although I was in the correct universe.  I won’t go into the entire interpretation, but it has something to do with “space time travel.”

Kim asked me if I wanted to see Lichtenstein, and I said I did, because I had only driven through the country once a few decades ago.  He was forced to tell me that it was a painting by Roy Lichtenstein, which turned out to be interesting.  Lichtenstein’s triptych was his “response to the paintings of Rouen Cathedral made by French impressionist Claude Money in the 1890s.”  Lichtenstein called his Cathedral paintings, “Manufactured Monets.

On the next floor, Jackie Winsor proved to us that she knew the ropes when it came to modern art and her sculpture entitled #1 Rope.

Jeff Koons monkeyed around with this porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and his “best friend,” the chimpanzee Bubbles.  Koons once stated if he could “be one other living person, it would be Michael Jackson.”   One of these figures sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $5.6 million.  Obviously Koons adhered to the monetary auction theory, “Don’t stop ‘til you get enough.”  According to the accompanying signage, “The gilded treatment of the late performer and his pet is exaggerated, and their triangular configuration reflects that of Mary and Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà (1489-99).”  Once I learned Bubbles was still alive, we Beat It to the next room, although you really Never Can Say Goodbye.

In the next room was probably my favorite piece, Fire and Light by Teresita Fernández and Felix Gonzales-Torres.  The drum-shaped Fire is made up of thousands of vertical threads.  At times, it seems like flames are flickering as people move around it.

We were going Mobile as we entered a room with some familiar looking works.  When you see whimsical mobiles, you know you are in the presence of pieces by Alexander Calder.


There was a larger Calder piece on the Sculpture Patio.

Up to the next floor (by now I had lost track of the floors) we encountered Che farò senza Eurydice by Mark di Suvero.  It looked very similar to the birdhouse I attempted to construct in my 8th grade Shop class.

We meandered through a few rooms and its art which I dubbed “What The Hell Is This.”

I didn’t know what to chalk this artwork up to.

A piece that both Kim and I liked a lot was this green and red board at an angle.  When you’re standing there, it looks like it is in 3D.  We stood and stared at this for much too long a time.  Were we being converted to modern art lovers?

The following is a true story.  Kim took a long, hard look at this and said, “Are they trying to depict a freight elevator?”  He was slightly embarrassed to find out it REALLY IS a freight elevator.  We were starting to overthink the rooms by now.

Kim stayed on roll, as he pointed this painting out.  “Do you know what this is called?” he asked.  Before I could attempt an answer, Kim started laughing and said, “NBC Peacock Run Over By A Steamroller.”  We still had another two floors to go.

We headed to another floor, and I couldn’t get that peacock joke out of my head.  Instead of peacocks, here we were introduced to some spiders.  Louis Bourgerois thought spiders were “exceedingly clever, industrious and fiercely protective,” so in this room they were on display.  We saw everything from Itsy Bitsy spiders to large ones.  I told Kim, “We should look for these on the web.”  Hey, two can play at this game.


We came to the Oculus Bridge we had seen from the lobby …

… and then headed back to Lichtenstein (Roy), and his Figures With Sunset.

It can’t be a modern art museum without Andy Warhol.  I had seen this Jackie Kennedy painting at The Broad in L.A.  Thankfully, there were no Brillo boxes.

The next room contained paintings by Chuck Close that had a familiar pattern (literally). 

We had seen his painting of Bill Clinton earlier this year at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

Although popular, you did not have to stand in line for this painting.

Kim’s daughter told us not to miss the paintings by German artist Gerhard Richter.  A couple stood out.  I told Kim that this must have been a pane for him to paint.

I also really enjoyed his Stadtbild Madrid (Cityscape Madrid).  The painting, Richter once said, was based on an aerial view he found in a magazine.  Richter had witnessed the rebuilding of Europe after World War II and once said, “When I look back on my Cityscapes now, they do seem to recall certain images of the destruction of Dresden during the war.”


I didn’t think this plane would fly here.  I believe Aeroflot just ordered 50 of them for their fleet.

Insert joke here.

We stepped out on the patio on the upper floor.  The clouds had parted and we gazed out on a glorious San Francisco afternoon.


Blue skies greeted us wherever we looked.


It was time for the final pieces of art.  Kevin Beasley must have had writer’s block when he named this one Untitled (Monday), but we sure liked this creation made up of housedresses, kaftans, altered bandanas, do-rags, altered kente fabric, resin, wood and acoustic foam.


Also on the 7th floor is Penelope Umbrico’s creation of a wall of brilliant suns – “more than 1,000 photographic prints of suns.”  It is an iteration of her 5,377,183 Suns (from Sunsets).  It’s way too complicated to describe here, but if interested, here’s a link as to how she does this.

The San Francisco Mint was highlighted in The Ethics of Dust, Old United States Mint, San Francisco by Jorge Otero-Pailos.


He said, “I’ve come to think of pollution as the chief product of our civilization, as important or more so than the monuments on which it settles.”

Finally we came upon a bunch of computers dangling over our heads.  “They must be in the Cloud,” I said.  Our tour and bad jokes were now just history.

Back in the lobby, we took a final look up at the cool Oculus Bridge.

We hadn’t really learned anything new about modern art, and we still didn’t particularly comprehend many of the pieces we had just witnessed, but I think we came away with a greater appreciation of modern art. 

I would certainly highly recommend this museum for anyone visiting San Francisco.  Many of the paintings and sculptures were colorful and intriguing.  Although modern art is still not the apple of my eye (or nose for that matter), I’ll keep giving these galleries a try.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
151 Third Street (entrances on Third Street & Howard Street)
San Francisco, California 94103
Prices: Adults $25 • Seniors $22 • 19 – 24 $19 • 18 and under Free
Hours: Friday – Tuesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. • Thursday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
BART Stations: Powell or Montgomery Street

Comments are closed.