San Francisco Modern

SFMOMA reopens after a three-year overhaul to make room for an authoritative new collection. 

As far as monumental, game-changing reopenings go, the revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a startling intimacy. With the 1,100-piece gift of Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher’s significant contemporary-art collection, the museum’s old terraced brick home by Mario Botta found itself bursting at the seams. So the institution took the bold step of closing down altogether for three years to build a ten-story addition by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. At 23,500 square feet, the billowy structure roughly doubles the size of the original museum, yet it sneaks up on you as you approach it from its new Howard Street entrance. It’s meant to evoke the ethereality of Bay Area fog: “The idea of surprise and discovery was very important,” says Craig Dykers, a founding partner of Snøhetta. 

The combined gallery space is far more than can be seen in one day, but a good place to start is the fourth floor, where one can marvel at the Fishers’ collection of works by Ellsworth Kelly—arranged with help from the master himself before his death, in December—and a chapel-like space dedicated to seven meditative works by minimalist Agnes Martin. (“When I’m having a tough day, that’s where I go to decompress,” says the museum’s deputy director, Ruth Berson.) Those with fond memories of the Botta galleries will find them intact, with favorites like Mark Rothko’s No. 14 and Henri Matisse’s Femme au chapeau rehung in their old, familiar places of honor. Opens May 14; 151 Third St.; 415-357-4000; sfmoma.org.