The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA); A Museum for Everyone


I am in no way an art critic, nor do I consider myself an artist. Heck, I’m not even a good restaurant critic but I love to eat and I love to tell people about my experiences. Much in the same way, I love enjoying art and interpreting all the sensory stimulations that come with it. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, you can indulge yourself with some of finest artwork from the modern era and not feel like an art snob. 

The museum is located in SoMa, on 3rd Street between Mission and Howard, just a hop across the street from B Restaurant & Bar. A work of art itself, it is housed in a gorgeous brick building that features a grand atrium and staircase topped by their signature turret and oculus skylight. Though founded in 1935, the current building was constructed in 1995 by architect Mario Botta. The building is over 225,000 square feet and spans 5 floors that all feature vast open spaces and natural lighting. 

The first floor is the main lobby, where you can find the information desk and museum store, which in itself is worth the trip. It has a lot of exhibition products, furniture, housewares, jewelry, and ton of art and design books you won’t find easily elsewhere. I spent just as much time perusing the SFMOMA Museum Store as I did on each of the floors.

The second floor features pieces from the painting and sculpture collections and also showcases work from their architecture and design program.

The third floor consists of galleries devoted to photography, which I absolutely enjoy. On my most current trip, they had a whole ehxibit devoted to American photographer Robert Frank, whose work from his pivotal book, The Americans, is showcased in its entirety from start to finish. With an introduction written by beat legend Jack Kerouac, it is an incredibly moving collection of photos that looks at American life in the 1950’s, and has been seen as both controversial and infuential. I highly suggest you check out this exhibit, it runs until August 23rd.

The top two floors are very open and airy, and they are used to accommodate special temporary exhibitions, media arts, and large-scale contemporary art from their collection. Here you will find larger than life sculptures and artwork that runs the gamut from the soft and delicate to the overly obnoxious, depending on your point of view. Some of my favorite pieces of art were featured on these floors, including this piece consisting solely of chalk rock collected in England. 

The newest addition to the MOMA is the rooftop garden, which is has open air spaces as well as a glass-enclosed pavilion. Designed by architect Mark Jensen, he describes it as  “a gallery without a ceiling.” Inside the pavilion there is a Blue Bottle Cafe, which just so happens to be my favorite coffee in San Francisco. On a sunny day you will find many people relaxing out on the rooftop garden, enjoying some fresh brewed coffee from Blue Bottle and enjoying the sculptures that don’t make sense. What’s great is that they don’t have to, and that’s what makes them so interesting.

I have no formal training or expertise in art critiquing, but that’s what makes viewing artwork fun. Some of it resonates loudly and really speaks to you, while others may not even earn a second glance. The beauty of trying to interpret what the artist is trying to portray is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is whatever you choose to make of it. When viewing artwork, I do seem to follow some sort of regular pattern that helps me try to understand the piece, if not appreciate it on a deeper level other than, “It looks cool.”

  • Look at the piece in its entirety from every angle possible, and don’t classify it as good or bad. If it caught your attention, then it deserves a deeper look.
  • Take a look at how it was made, think about what it is constructed of, the steps it may have taken to get to the finished product and how long you think it took the artist the complete.
  • Try to intepret it. What is the relationship between the objects or the life it features? Why is it arranged that way? Most importantly, how does it make you feel? Oftentimes that’s all I get out of a piece, if it makes me happy, sad, confused, intrigued, angry, etc. 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a museum for everyone. It does not exude the pretentiousness of art snobs that would scoff at you for walking past a painting that just doesn’t strike a chord with you. All types of people visit the MOMA, with many regulars being art students, tourists, seniors, families, and an art snob or two. You are also allowed to take photos (hence the photos here) as long as you don’t use flash. If you get caught using a flash, one of the many ninja-esque museum employees will quickly tell you to shut it off, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. The atmosphere and layout is very inviting, and allows you to wander around freely without feeling claustrophobic or rushed by crowds and lines. As a result, you can enjoy all the art at your own pace, and wonder if the artist was on crack or not when they created it. 

The museum is open until 5:45pm everyday except on Wednesdays when they are closed, and on Thursday evenings they are open until 8:45pm when you can get in for half-price. The museum is also free on the first Tuesday of each month, see my article on free museum days in San Francisco for a list of other museums that offer free admission on certain days. 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
151 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 357-4000  

Thanks for the photos, Camille! 

Also check out:
The Official Hoodscope List of Free San Francisco Museum Days 
B Restaurant & Bar in SOMA   
San Francisco 3rd Most Creative City in the World 
The Ultimate SoMa Happy Hour Gameplan


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