SFMOMA Hallway

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May 19, 2016
Photo by Pei Ketron

How to See SFMOMA in One Day

Short on time but keen on art? With the new museum now weighing in at twice its previous size, repeat visits are the only way to see it properly. Still you may be wondering how to tackle those 170,000 square feet of galleries if you only have one day. Here’s a guide for getting the most out of a single visit based on insider advice from SFMOMA staffers.

General tips
Start at the main entrance on Third Street to get the best experience of the atrium’s new floating grand staircase that zig-zags up to the ticketing hall.

If your smartphone is your best friend, download SFMOMA’s free mobile app and you’re on your way to an immersive, location-aware journey through the building that’s fresh, fascinating and state of the art. It’s part of the museum’s newly souped-up digital program.

Another fun way to curate a path through the museum is to seek out museum director Neal Benezra’s own “top pick” artworks, which are listed in the printed museum map. The most iconic pieces in the collection are covered.

If you decide to let your own curiosity be your guide, take the elevator up to the seventh floor and navigate down floor by floor via internal stairways that run along the east-facing side of the building. This route provides interesting experiences of the Snøhetta-designed interior architecture and also ensures you won’t miss several outdoor terraces with incredible city views along the way. The restrooms on each floor are also worth poking inside–each is an over-the-top homage to a different color and feels like a secret wink from the building designer.

Seventh Floor
Where some of the edgiest and contemporary pieces live (Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine). Don’t miss the impressive new spaces dedicated to media art, which have been expanded and upgraded to the caliber a museum in such a tech-loving town deserves. ss

Sixth Floor
Here you’ll find one of the best parts of the museum’s Fisher Collection–its amazing post-war German masterpieces. Stroll through a jaw-dropping sequence of galleries devoted to Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke. The museum is renowned for its holdings in this area.

Fifth Floor
Head straight to the exhibition of pop, minimal and figurative art (also from the Fisher Collection) and sample must-sees by Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Sol LeWitt. Getting hungry? Stop for lunch at Café 5, preferably at a table in the rooftop sculpture garden.

Fourth Floor
Find your way to the glorious Ellsworth Kelly galleries. They span all stages of the artist’s career, like a mini survey, and are guaranteed to lift your spirits. Then bliss out in the secluded, octagonal-shaped “chapel” of seven paintings by Agnes Martin.

Third Floor
This level is largely devoted to photography, one of SFMOMA’s great points of distinction. But on a tight schedule you may have to save that for another time. Instead check out the delightful Alexander Calder “motion lab” (on view through Sept. 17, 2017) and experience a concentration of the artist’s mobiles that extends into an outdoor terrace framed by a gigantic vertical garden. Indoor-outdoor visitor circulation creates airflow into these galleries, which allows the sculptures to do their thing. Then get your afternoon caffeine fix at the new Sightglass coffee bar. 

Second Floor
You must at least whiz through SFMOMA’s re-envisioned permanent collection galleries, stopping to say hello to greatest hits like Matisse’s Femme au Chapeau and Mark Rothko’s luminous No. 14, 1960, among other old friends like Frida Kahlo’s self portrait with hubby Diego Rivera and important works by Robert Rauschenberg (another great strength of the collection). Grab a souvenir from the new Museum Store outpost in the ticketing court where you started.

Ground Floor
Shoot, you’ve run out of time. Grab a souvenir from the new Museum Store outpost in the ticketing court where you started, then (literally) wind your way through Richard Serra’s behemoth walk-in sculpture Sequence and out the door of SFMOMA’s new glass-walled gallery facing Howard Street.

Mission accomplished. Vow to return someday soon to see the rest of the museum, then head to one of the neighborhood’s many great spots for a bite and enjoy seeing the world through new eyes.

SFMOMA’S BUILDING BY THE NUMBERS

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