The Grand Reopening Of SFMOMA

It finally happened. After years of renovations, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reopened to the public on May 14th, 2016. To call the event “highly-anticipated” would be a huge understatement. When their new website went live and offered free, exclusive tickets for the reopening, thousands of potential visitors flooded and completely overwhelmed its database. And I was one of them; I spent two hours navigating the perpetually-crashing site, hoping that my clicks would finally register and get me into the event. I wasn’t the only one, either. After I live-tweeted this 21st century exercise in futility, the museum’s staff actually reached out to me and offered tickets as an apology. A month and some a few emails later (thank you very much to Christopher at Visitor Experiences, and the unnamed hero running the SFMOMA Twitter), I finally got the go-ahead to come to the event.

Upon entering, I was immediately struck by the sheer size. The lobby and staircase have long been a staple of the museum, but they’ve been revamped in order to keep the flow of visitors steady and focused. Aside from the gift shop (which is more than double the size than that of the Exploratorium), much of the entrance hall is free space for people to either stand, sit, or walk to the elevators. Or you could be like me and spend several minutes gaping up at the massive, cylindrical atrium that cuts through the first four floors of the building. It’s beautiful from the bottom, but it looks much better once you get up to the suspended walkway overhead. The ground floor isn’t the only part with huge floor space; the museum now has additional 235,000 square feet with which to accommodate visitors. As someone who despises crowds, I was quite grateful for the extra space. I’ll admit that I’m more of a classic art and history kind of person; The Legion of Honor has a special place in my heart, but SFMOMA does spacing and crowd control so much better. Despite being incredibly busy, it always felt like there was enough room to breathe.

Assuming, of course, that the exhibits don’t leave you breathless. There are well over 10,000 works of art at SFMOMA, in all shapes and sizes. It was good to revisit works like Ruth Asawa’s metal wire sculptures, the dramatic brush strokes of Jay DeFeo’s The VerĂ³nica, and the massive prayer beads that comprise Zarina’s Tasbih. It felt great to come across familiar names like Diego Rivera’s The Flower Carrier, Henri Matisse’s Le serf, Bentley’s Snowflakes, as well as works from pop culture giants like Andy Warhol. There was also a surprising amount of photography on display. Most of it depicted local histories, like the view from the top of partially constructed Golden Gate Bridge circa 1935, the twisted routes of Los Angeles freeway system, and some fascinating portraits of Patty Hearst.

What I found most interesting were the works that implemented modern technologies. Richard Serra’s Sequence is a two-story labyrinth that absolutely dominates one corner of the museum, and it was crafted with weatherproof steel at German fabrication plant. Anthony McCall’s Slit-Scan uses a rapidly-shifting slide projector to convey his message. The cafe on one of the upper floors has selfie booths, but you have to put objects on the machine’s illuminated surface to create the necessary contrast. There’s also a whole gallery devoted to the development of type settings, including old typewriters, posters, and keyboard technologies. One particularly stylish display was the Computer House of Cards, which utilizes some old IBM tech from the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. I’ve got to admit, it was pretty baffling to see a vintage ’76 Apple computer on display; I remember using one years ago in grade school! That also goes for the Palm Pilot, one of which I happened to own. My personal favorite, however, is Takeshi Murata’s Melter 3-D, which uses flashing strobe lights to create an illusion of a constantly churning and flowing ball of metal. Seriously, it looks like something out of Terminator 2!

If you’re getting overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of such exhibits, catch your breath at the outdoor Living Wall and Sculpture Garden. Imagine a forest floor, dense with flowers, plants, moss, and grass. Take that image and graft it onto the side of a two-story building, and you’ve got the Living Wall. It’s as pleasant as it is unusual; no one expects to find a miniature forest in the middle of downtown San Francisco. It’s reminiscent of the Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences, but this is far more spacious and relaxing. It’s so easy to just sit down for few minutes and watch the leaves in the breeze. I you want something a little more urban, try the balcony up on the seventh floor. The view isn’t quite as grand as those of the Exploratorium or the Legion of Honor, but the skyscrapers and offices in the area make for some interesting architecture photography.

There’s plenty more to write about, but I don’t want to spoil everything. If you’re in San Francisco and have any interest in art, design, technology, and 20th century history whatsoever, you should absolutely visit this place. The variety and creativity of these thousands of works are nothing short of amazing. A lot of work went into revamping the building, and it’s now arguably the finest museum in the city. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to come to the grand reopening, and I hope to do so again soon. Glad to have you back, SFMOMA. It’s been far too long.

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Takeshi Murata: Melter 3-D

Caution: Don’t view this if you’re prone to epilepsy. I was lucky enough to attend the grand reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this weekend. While there will be more writing of that coming soon, thought I’d give you a look at one of the museum’s coolest exhibits. Takeshi Murata’s Melter 3-D uses strobe lights to create this amazing optical illusion sculpture.

Hiking In Bernal Heights, San Francisco

Bernal Heights, San Francisco

I kicked off May 2016 by doing something a little different: I went on a group hike with Hike It Up SF. If you’ve followed my blog for the last couple of years, you know I’ve hiked about half of the city by now. But I’d never been to Bernal Heights, and I’d always do my adventuring alone. These folks organize awesome urban hikes at the end of every month, and I had just stumbled across their listing on SF Funcheap the night before. I’m not much of a people person, but I was determined to see a new area and meet others who shared at least one interest. Besides, the weather was gorgeous; I wasn’t going to spend such a wonderful spring weekend stuck in the house.

Judging by that photo, I’d say the decision paid off.

Did you know that there’s a canyon in San Francisco? I certainly didn’t. Especially one so close to a BART station. It’s located within the vicinity of Sutro Tower (AKA That Big Pointy Antennae looming over the city’s southern skyline) and hidden behind the hills. The climb itself was nothing crazy – I visited Mount Diablo multiple times as a kid – but I managed to get a little scraped up while taking one of the higher, rocky trails. I brought along my hiking stick just in case (man, was that a conversation-starter on BART!), but I never needed it. The pace wasn’t grueling, though I often let myself fall behind the pack (there were about 30 of us, a relatively small group by some accounts) in order to take more photos. Surprisingly, there were only two or three others that brought DSLRs. The trail was pretty busy even without us; I saw several joggers, a rock climber, and in one memorable instance, a man pushing a large stroller down a hill.

The hike was fraught with twists and turns. At a couple of points, we had to turn around and take another path. We climbed hills, stumbled across abandoned homeless camps, took in the scenery, and eventually emerged at the end of a cul-de-sac in some forgotten nook in the city. While I attempted to keep track of our exact route, I eventually gave up and just followed the group’s lead. I occasionally snapped photos of the street signs to give myself a visual record, but I’m still piecing it together. I do know that we climbed/descended at least three hills after leaving the canyon. We passed Saint Paul’s Catholic Church, the slide near the Esmeralda Stairs, gorgeous houses, and several kids eating ice cream.

Just as exhaustion was starting to pull me under, we reached the hike’s culmination: the peak of Bernal Heights Park. San Francisco spread out before us like a ludicrously detailed miniature. Before this, the highest point I’d visited was Coit Tower. But this was different. I could see Japantown, the Bay Bridge, just a glimmer of the Golden Gate on the distant horizon…All of these places I’d walked and seen before dozens of times, but on a scale unlike any seen. And all because I decided to take a chance and do something a little different with my routine. You’ll see the photo of it soon; I took a lot of shots while I was up there, and I’m still sorting through the best of them.

The trip back down was relatively easy. Much like the neighborhood surrounding Coit Tower, there were narrow stairways built into the hillside. Go down a flight of steps, land on someone’s doorstep, go down more stairs, rinse and repeat until the street reappears. The hike ended at the Wild Side West, where we could finally sit and relax in the shade of the beer garden downstairs. I was apprehensive at first; I don’t drink or party, and crowded places feel claustrophobic to me. I was the only one not drinking or speaking; what could I add to this mix of far more interesting people?

After a view quiet, awkward moments, I sat down at one of the big stone tables, sipped my tea, and just rolled with it. I showed off my photos and talked about some of my more bizarre adventures in the city. I met a young Bulgarian woman currently working in the Bay Area for the next couple of months, a mother with an unbridled passion for the Golden States Warriors, and a published entomologist who may be naming his own spider species in the near future. When it was time to go, the latter offered to split a Lyft back to Glen Park BART. Then we discovered that we were a mere 15 minute walk away from the station, so we decided to seize the spirit of the day and finish things off with a little mini hike along the highway. We parted ways at a burrito shop nearby, and I made the long commute back home. I managed to get home just in time to heat up some leftovers, and collapse into bed.

Not bad way to start the month.

A larger version of this photo is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s All In Your Head

Brain On Display

This week’s challenge is all about things you admire, so I decided on something a little less..conventional. Do not adjust your set; that is a real human brain, preserved in epoxy and currently on display at the Exploratorium. Take step back and consider all that a human brain does. Controlling your body’s functions, from the senses and sleep to memories and sheer, raw emotion. Keeping you breathing and balanced. Reading this sentence and processing the little squiggles into letters and words, and thus their meaning. A complex organic machine connected via trillions of synapses. For all the dangers out there, it’s allowed us to become the dominant species on the planet. We survive, thrive, create, accomplish, and it’s all because these little clumps of matter are developed just enough to make it happen. Yeah, it’s worth admiration. A larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Makeup Wave

Makeup Swirl

This week’s challenge calls for something abstract, and I remembered something I saw at recently at the Macy’s Flower show. This isn’t just some random flow of colors; it’s a rather cleverly-designed makeup display for Dior. A larger version is viewable here.

Two Weeks In Europe: Day 1 – Leaving On A Train, Then Jet Plane

What would become the greatest trip of my life started as a complete coincidence. It was early in 2015, and I’d already thought my travel plans were set for the year; I’d have a week in Mexico, and that would be it. However, my mother called me unexpectedly one afternoon, saying that she’d come across a flyer for the Royal Caribbean cruise line. She’d been considering Greece – this was long before the refugee crisis became headlines here in the States – but decided on something far grander: a two week trip with stops in Spain, France, Italy, and Montenegro. We’d been to this part of Europe before (years before I owned a digital camera, sadly!), but never to Barcelona or Nice. I’ve always been a huge history and art geek, so I was immediately hooked on the prospect of seeing Rome and Venice. Mom had actually been trying for almost a decade to get a trip booked for Rome via her timeshare, but couldn’t get anything in the city itself. This cruise seemed like a feasible way for her to tackle her bucket list, and we wanted to travel together while she was still capable of doing so. So, we made arrangements and marked our calendars.

Skip forward about 6 months (the Mexico trip in June is a story for another time), to the morning of October 18th. I’d slept at Mom’s place overnight – amazing how the living room sofa felt better than my old bed – because we had to leave the house before dawn. Instead of driving to SFO, we stuck with what’s become our go-to option: taking BART train line all the way to the airport. It’s easy to navigate, cheaper than a shuttle, and you don’t have to worry about parking. Assuming there are no malfunctions, protests, or police activity (which all happened coming back from Hawaii last December), it’s a smooth, straightforward trip. It’s just a long ride from our starting point, almost from one end of the line to the other. It feels even longer when you’re still half asleep, shivering in the cold, and hauling 50 lbs of your mom’s luggage onto the platform. We took the first SFO-bound train of the day, and were surprised to find at least two dozen other travelers along for the ride. Any Bay Area commuter knows that getting a seat on BART during the busy hours is like a competitive sport; it’s all about positioning yourself in the crowd and seizing opportunities – and vacant chairs – with keen observation and timing. I usually stand during my daily commutes, but going to the airport is different. We tried getting the coveted senior priority seats (there’s more open space for our bags), but ended up sitting across the aisle from each other.

After about an hour of struggling to stay awake while keeping the bags standing and out of people’s way, we finally made it to the airport. Finding the terminal was easy, but the actual ticket counter was something else. We thought our flight was with United Airlines; it said so in nice, big letters on our printout. However, we failed to read the fine print: the plane belonged to United, but the flight itself was being operated by Air Canada. Cue us wasting about half an hour wandering through the terminal and getting incorrect directions from every information desk. Finally getting our luggage checked was a huge relief, both physically and mentally. Getting through security was surprisingly easy this time, too; I’m one of those unfortunate folks who seem to be a magnet for the TSA. It’s probably the suspiciously long, beautiful hair. Aside from her purse, Mom was toting a large bag full of food and her medications. She was diagnosed with diabetes last year – she carries around the doctor’s note to prove it to the authorities – but it always strikes me funny how she’s able to get several meals’ worth of snacks, cereal, and veggies past security. The most I bring are a couple packages of crackers and two refillable water bottles. With the hardest part out of the way, we had a little less than two hours to kick back and wait.

We weren’t flying straight to Spain, though. We had to fly to Montreal, then make a connection. It’s pretty standard fare…except that there was only 30 minutes between flights. When I wasn’t distracted by the movies (I got to watch Jurassic World, Inside Out, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Reviews coming soon!), I pondered over the logistics of our layover. 30 minutes to disembark the plane, get through customs/security, and find a gate in an airport that I’d never seen before. Yeah, it was going to be messy. Air Canada was well aware of our problem; when we landed in Montreal, they announced that the people with close connecting flights – less than a dozen of us in total – were allowed to disembark first. They were even good enough to find out what gate we needed. Mom and I bolted and got through security quickly – they have a small booth off to the side just for connections – and rushed to the next gate.

But there was no plane.

I checked my watch. No, we had at least another 15 minutes. There’s no way it could’ve left. I went to the flight listing display and searched for ours. Lo and behold, it was still at the airport, but at a different gate, in the opposite direction that we’d come. The Air Canada crew had outdated information. Because it couldn’t be that easy, right? Mom and I nearly sprinted to the correct gate, only to find that they’d been delayed and had just started boarding. We scrambled into the line and got on without any problems. As I sank wearily into my seat and buckled up, I closed my eyes and tried to rub my headache away. We’d been traveling for over 12 hours straight across multiple time zones, and we’d made a connection that, in normal circumstances, should’ve been nearly impossible. Once dinner and drinks had been served – apple juice is my beverage of choice when flying – I tried settling back and sleeping. Time passes strangely on overnight flights; with the windows shuttered and lighting inconsistent, it’s impossible to tell what time it is without looking at a phone or watch. And when you’ve been on your feet for so long, your energy and circadian rhythm are all out of sorts. I think I slept, but I’ve blacked out on flights before. I was more worried about Mom; her endurance isn’t as strong as it used to be. She spent most of the flight trying to find a good sleeping position – often using my shoulder as a pillow – but with little results.

Eventually, someone pulled up a shutter, revealing that the sun was already out. I’d lost track of the night at some point, but that didn’t matter. The captain announced that we were within an hour of Barcelona, the port where we’d board the cruise. I rubbed my eyes and shared some bread with Mom. At this point, we’d been traveling for over 24 hours straight. My head was pounding, but I had to focus on what was coming next. Disembarking. Finding our luggage. Hopefully none of it got lost in transit like the last time we were in Spain. Finding the airport-to-ship shuttle service we’d reserved in advance. We were almost an hour late, hopefully they were still waiting for us. Boarding the ship. What did that entail? So many questions, so little time.

Continued in Day 2…

Rodin’s The Thinker

Rodin's The Thinker

When they hear the name Auguste Rodin, the first thing most people will remember (aside from him being one of the most awesome artists ever) is The Thinker: A gigantic man hunched over a rock, utterly focused on his philosophical pondering. The detailed design and musculature show off Michelangelo’s influence, but only Rodin could’ve captured that kind of expressiveness. In terms of fame in popular culture, The Thinker comparable to the Mona Lisa. What most people don’t know is that it started as part of a much bigger project (and serious contender for my all-time favorite sculpture I’ve personally seen) called The Gates of Hell. Rodin eventually decided to make this a separate work, resulting in a modern sculpting legacy. There are now over 30 Thinkers in existence, spanning museums and universities around the planet. This one is the centerpiece of the court at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Larger version is viewable here.