San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Visit August 4, 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary, map

Sunday was dedicated to a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). We had a 3pm lunch reservation at the museum's In Situ restaurant and a 1pm appointment to see the Andy Warhol exhibit. Throw in time for all the other art and it promised to be a full day.

Again, we took BART from El Cerrito to the Montgomery station. On Sunday, there are no direct trains, so we needed to transfer in Oakland, but the system is well-timed and simply requires walking across a platform to a waiting SF-bound train. MOMA outsidelobby

Less than ten minutes from our stop, we were at SFMOMA. Entrance to the exhibits is up a long flight of stairs to the second floor. There was a fair-sized crowd, but things moved right along. Good first impression.


high risereflectionsOur general plan, when attacking a multi-level museum, is to start at the top and work our way down. Save stair-climbing exercise for the gym. In MOMA's case, that meant a 7th floor start.

Just off the elevator, my first distraction was the view from the outside gallery. We still remember the San Francisco of our youths, several decades ago, when most of the South of Market area was a rough collection of factories, workshops, and tenements. Now some of the most expensive real estate in the world towers above.

*** Diary Note: SFMOMA holds a huge amount and range of modern art. In our visit, we would see and photograph far more than we need to talk about or show. The museum has an excellent website for a systematic coverage of everything, so what should we do here? When I reviewed our photographs, two things stood out: my attention and picture-taking faded in under about 2 hours and only about half-a-dozen artists caught our attention on this particular visit. I will show and tell about what did get our attention, not anywhere near a complete survey of even our one-day visit. ***

I am hereOn half of the the top floor, local artist Suzanne Lacy had a huge exhibit titled 'We Are Here", providing her take on social ills in America, specifically in California. My two pictures here are of installations inspired by garage sales in the San Joachin Valley and flag-sewing garment factories in old San Francisco. Both stories were uniquely told. Farther in to the exhibit, Lacey's art described oppression of women and I took no pictures. Maybe it seemed voyeuristic, or just too dark. Powerful, however, and my mind still retains images of her work.

garage sale flag sewing

german sign

One floor down, we had to go to the "German Art After 1960" exhibition. In our time living in that country and visiting many museums and galleries, we had developed an appreciation of German modern art and artists.

paitedphoto distanceThe first works on display were by Gerhard Richter, starting with a style he calls "photo painting". From a distance, these looked like soft black and white photographs, but up close paint stokes appeared. I need to figure out how to make photos like this, without the painting part.

abstractabstract detail

Around the corner was a room filled with Richter's abstracts, colorful pieces completely different from the photo-based work. This square example, four or five feet on a side, showed layer after layer of color, reportedly done in a manner where even the artist did not know where it would go. (Not unlike our own home-artist's abstracts.)

In a later wall-sized work, "Madrid Cityscape", Richter's photo-like distant view was again built up from smaller almost-impressionist details. We spent quite some time going toward and away from the canvas to see images materialize and disappear. Artist's magic.

Madrid detail 1 detail 2 detail 3


The last Richter work I am showing is "Window". This "photo painting" seemed much more a photo than a brush painting. I think we noted this particular work because it reminded us of some paintings from Fresno artist Robert Ogata. Maybe "Bob" will one day hang in SFMOMA.

Wayland'sAnselm Kiefer was nearby in the German section. Most of his work presented was dark and "theoretical", featuring allusion buried in heavily-textured surfaces. Here, Marianne examines "Wayland's Song", featuring a lead wing, symbolizing some sort of almost-escape.Daath

Across the room was "Daath", Hebrew for wisdom, symbolized by a bridge almost hidden by other parts of the painting's surface. Interesting, but a bit unsettling. detail

The work of Jannis Kounellis (right and below) was completely different from the paintings of the first two German artists. His work was, literally, heavy, made of steel, wax, and cloth. I liked these, but we would need museum walls to hang them.

After the German section, we wandered around without much direction, other than making sure we made our 1pm appointment with Andy Warhol on Floor 2. Somewhere (Floor 5?, 4? - Not 3, since we skipped that entirely) I spotted work by one of my favorites: Chuck Close. Four years ago we had seen his work at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland Oregon. Remarkable personal story and remarkable work. Like in Richter's "Madrid Cityscape", the picture appears and disappears by viewing distance. Magic.

full picture close 1 close 2 close 3

combineAnother "old friend", Robert Rauschenberg, also had works at SFMOMA. We had seen his massive "1/4 Mile" in Los Angeles earlier this year, but the pieces we saw Sunday were different. Actually, the "combine" on the right was similar to parts of the 1/4 Mile, but SFMOMA also had examples of his "White" and "Black" paintings.black


detailI did not take a picture of "White" because, well, it was just five canvas panels painted white. One can easily imagine. It is understandable why the series was controversial, but that was the purpose, after all. "Black", as shown at the San Francisco museum, is equally monotone, but with a rich, rough texture that reveals yet again Rauschenberg's imagination. One color is enough.


Back up on the 6th floor, The "Far Out" exhibit honored the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo moon landing with an installation showing old moon films, film costumes, and imaginary space-travel concepts. We should have stayed to watch every little film and read about every costume or model, but we were tiring and the main attraction was just ahead.

Far Out1902 film costumes concept

warhol sign

Finally, we made it to "Andy Warhol, From A to B and Back Again." After almost two hours of viewing modern art, much of which we REALLY like, we were of mixed views when we started the headline show, maybe because we are ambivalent about Andy.superheroe


BrilloWarhol made paintings of superheroes, soup cans, and Brillo boxes must-have purchases in some circles. Posters of the same appeared everywhere else. It was hard to imagine the MOMA show would present anything we had not been surrounded with for decades.

Much of his work was formed by repeating a piece over and over again, until it "became art". He created rubber stamps for these S&H Green and assembled them into what looks like a pair of pages from our mothers books of stamps, except they were eight feet tall. OK, I suppose.

stamp book stamps

self-protraitsfamous peopleAndy Warhol may have been most famous for his portraits, created on commission, which reportedly paid for his other art and an exuberant lifestyle. He used a silkscreen process and provide the first print for the patron, but then retain copies for his own commercial use. He even managed to make his own self-portraits valuable. A cagey businessman.

Among his most famous portraits were ones where he used commercial photos of famous people and reproduced them singly, in pairs, by the dozen, or fifty at a time as in this Marilyn Monro piece entitled "Diptych". Art, yes, but in concept or in application? Probably both. I'm just jealous.

diptych pair

MaoMao and meReportedly, Warhol himself tired of all this repetitive work and he "retired from painting" near the peak of his popularity. Five years later, he made what might be his most famous portrait, that of Chairman Mao, because Warhol felt the Communist chief was the most influential person of his times. I'm not sure the young man I saw sitting on the bench was convinced this was a best-ever.

Sometimes, like with the boy and Mao, I just took pictures of people looking at art, Marianne mostly, but I liked the shot of a mom and her son taking a break. Or, the room with a bench and colorful walls. Waiting for people, the bench became part of the art.

m and white m and girl
mon sonempty

And that was it for art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We left plenty more for another day or two or three.

In Situ

We were not completely done with SFMOMA, however. We still needed lunch. We arrived at our reserved time, 3pm, and were seated in the almost-empty In Situ. The first floor restaurant has received a number of accolades, and we had heard it was hard to get into, but Sunday afternoon must not be a peak time.

We ordered light, a small plate and a main course each. For me: tapioca and cheese fritters and spicy pork sausage & rice cakes. For Marianne: yellow chive & basil pancake and tomato lettuce cup salad. We turned down dessert, but they brought me a "birthday cake" anyway. All the food was tasty, but the cake may have been the highlight! Overall, a good eating experience, but we might favor noisier times. Just can't be pleased.

john Marianne cake

The walk to BART was pleasant, less crowded on City streets than Saturday had been. The train was more crowded, due to work on the tracks, but not so bad as to change our positive impression of BART being the best way into and out of town.

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