SFMOMA has been closed for three years since the summer of 2013. This May, it reopened its door. I finally had a chance to visit today. I’ve read the New Yorker article on the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. I’ve devoured all the local newspaper articles on the new design. I even subscribed to SFMOMA’s instagram. I was fully prepared to love the new space.
But i didn’t.
Many have detailed how the new design will “open up” the lobby by removing the original zebra stripped granite stairs. When Mi went there a few weeks earlier, i was eager to find out his first impression of the lobby. “The Lobby? it looked the same.” He wasn’t sure what i was hoping he would have found.
The same?! how could it be the same?
Then today i saw it and I knew. It was not the same, but the new design definitely did not “open up” the lobby. Maybe the new architect underestimated the power of the dark granite floor, the entire lobby was just as dark as before. Worse, removing the zebra stripped stair cases actually removed the focal point of the entire building. The stair used to connect the lobby all the way to the giant diagonal sky light above. The stairs kept the visual element flowing from the stripped dark granite lobby to the stripped airy skylight above, It was a transition and linchpin, going from dark to light. With that gone, the giant sky light floating high above, and the dark brooding space weighted even heavier on the visitor’s visual experience. Now there was nothing to connect or transition the two.
That dark brooding feeling stayed with me almost the entire visit, all seven floors(2 floors more than before) of it!
The newly added side stairs that connected all seven floors were somewhat hidden from view. Itself was very airy and bright. The geometrical style, the narrowness of it, and the visual interconnectedness from floor to floor reminded me of both de Young and New York MOMA. But one has to appreciate it when you are in it, very unlike the zebra stripped granite stair case, it contributed zero visual element to the entire building. It is functional and pretty. But somewhat disconnected from the rest of the museum. Often I had to look at the floor map to locate it.
When i look back on the photos i took, i noticed i took a photo of the large square window almost at every floor. It reminded me of the windows in SuZhou Museum. These windows were all designed to frame a very different view of the city or the museum itself. It also became a magnet to the visitors. I personally feel my being drawn toward the windows was because the rest of the museum was so dark and heavy. I really needed that light from each window to breath.
The exhibition space also didn’t flow quite right, either. It felt like a disjoined odd rooms laid around randomly. I constantly had to look around or double back to see if i missed any room completely. Maybe it has something to do with all the current exhibition were pieces from the museum’s own collection. There currently isn’t a significant new exhibit.
The much raved white rippling backwall couldn’t be viewed at its entirety by any visitor. It was meant more for some drones flying high outside at certain angle. As an visitor, you get to see pieces of it here and there.
The giant living wall with Calder’s mobile sculpture was very lovely. But i don’t understand why the cafe inside wasn’t extended to the living wall so we could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while admiring it. Instead, you could either drink coffee inside the dark space on the other side of the floor, looking at fluorescent screens displaying modern art, not even has a view to the living wall. Or you could taking selfie of yourself freezing to death with the massive, super lovely green living wall and the colorful sculpture. You couldn’t even take your coffee into that courtyard while you taking the selfie. urgh!
During my previous visit pre-renovation days, the giant skylight was never far from one’s view. But this time, when i happened upon it on the 5th floor, i was so surprised. until i turned that corner, i totally forgot about its existence. And once I finished walking pass the darling sky bridge. I promptly forgot about it again.
I went back to read the 2013 New Yorker article again. It described the firm’s specialty as to manage “Pschology of space”, removing frustrations from people’s movement inside a public space.
It sounded very nice then. Now looking at the new museum, i started to wonder whether they spend too much energy trying to direct human foot traffic like guiding big school of fish in the sea, but they didn’t pay enough attention on the visual pleasure that also matters to these human “fish”.
We used to enjoy walking around in SFMOMA because the architecture element was fun and we enjoyed taking random photos while we were in it. But after seeing its public spaces once, Mi didn’t even want to go back in with me today to see the exhibit. “Somehow the whole architecture just turned me off. I have no desire to go back unless there is a brand new big show that i really want to see.”Mi said this morning.
Looking through the old materials from the museum’s own collection, glimpse of single pieces from the old masters reminded me of all the showed i enjoyed viewing it here before. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Robert Bechtle, George O’Keeffe. I hope SFMOMA could put up new great shows like they did before. Then maybe we would have a chance to learn to love the new architecture space of the museum itself.
Until then, I will probably not be coming back.