Sunday, May 8, 2016

SFMOMA reopening

The considerably expanded SF Museum of Modern Art reopened to members this weekend after three years shuttered. The new wing, in scalloped white, rises up incongruously behind the original brick building. I'm not sure I like the look, but I guess they needed more gallery space, and they definitely got that. The highlight of the new building right now is the Fisher collection of German art since 1960, along with some postwar American galleries that give their excellent collection of Ellsworth Kelly paintings plenty of elbow room.

The German exhibition is dominated by some fine Richter paintings, spanning the wide spectrum of his styles, and some simply gargantuan wall-size works by Anselm Kiefer. The Kiefer paintings, which took up an entire 747 to ship from Europe, grapple with difficult themes of German national identity and historical accountability, and are almost literally overwhelming. I expect I will spend a lot more time looking at them in future visits.

The revelation of this visit for me was a room devoted to the photos of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who traveled the world taking pictures of utilitarian structures like water towers and mine tipples. I've posted an example (cooling towers) below. Sometimes these structures--especially the older ones--were clearly designed with some aesthetic goals in mind, but for the most part form strictly follows function. Yet when placed in grids of photos, their accidental beauty emerges.

Kelly's enormous, brightly saturated color field paintings are also worth a trip. They are given plenty of wall space, allowing the intensity of the light and disarmingly simple shapes to burn right into your brain. I can't articulate what makes them so good, but they are extraordinary. Kelly gave his paintings informative titles: below I pose with aptly named Blue Red.

The museum expansion provided Kelly plenty of space, but the same cannot be said of Richard Serra's enormous and fantastic Sequence, which is caged-up in a ground-floor lobby (see below). Apparently it is here only temporarily, which is good, because the piece deserves an outdoor setting where its canyon-like curves can be appreciated both from a distance and up close and personal in the full range of natural light.

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