SFMOMA's $610M Renovation to Debut in May

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Courtesy of SFMOMA/Instagram

After three years of construction, the museum opens May 14 in its expanded home, where admission will be free for two of the 10 floors.

“Take your time looking around, because it took a long time to get it there,” says Charles Schwab, motioning toward the soaring ceiling of the brand-spanking-new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Schwab, the powerhouse investor and chair of SFMOMA’s board of trustees, appears positively serene, and for good reason: After a three-year, $610 million renovation, SFMOMA finally is ready to reopen to the public on May 14. And once it does, Schwab promises, “we’ll be here for a long time to come.”

The museum’s expanded home certainly seems built for posterity, and then some. A stark white monolith with rippling skin designed in part to evoke the waters of the bay, it has 170,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor gallery space — nearly three times that of SFMOMA’s original Mario Botta-designed building. The museum’s 10-story expansion, which was designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta, opens with 1,900 works on view, including 260 from the renowned collection of Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher.

The museum’s 100-year partnership with the Fishers — whose 1,100-strong collection includes major works from the likes of Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Chuck Close and Agnes Martin — is central to the new SFMOMA’s vision, which, says director Neal Benezra, takes the “21st-century approach” of emphasizing great works from private collections.

The museum’s Campaign for Art, which stretched from 2009 to 2015, secured an additional 3,000 works from 200 private donors including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dolby Laboratories’ Ray and Dagmar Dolby. Works from the museum’s own collection are central to its new Pritzker Center for Photography, a third-floor gallery that is the largest exhibition and research space dedicated to the medium in any art museum in the U.S. The museum also includes a lush living wall designed by David Brenner, and InSitu, a restaurant from the three-Michelin-star chef Corey Lee. Ahead of the public opening, its Modern Ball on May 12 will be chaired by Gina Peterson, wife of ARTIS Ventures co-founder Stuart Peterson.

Although it’s already being hailed as a major win for the city, SFMOMA’s expansion was not without a few strokes of controversy. Some criticized the price tag, which was particularly glaring against San Francisco’s backdrop of extreme income inequality, while others charged that the museum continues to ignore local artists in favor of blue-chip art from elsewhere. Perhaps for this reason, the museum’s heads repeatedly have emphasized the importance of accessibility to this bigger, better SFMOMA; Benezra says the museum’s new vision is “to mean more to more people than ever before in our history.” And so the museum will be free to anyone 18 and under, and its first floor — dominated by Richard Serra’s Sequence — and much of its second will be without charge to all visitors. Its public programming includes Modern Cinema, a new series of screenings, talks and live productions in a freshly renovated theater.

Says Benezra, “Museums in our time must not just be places for art, but great community centers, too.”