Lonely Planet Writer

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art extension makes it the biggest art gallery in US

The city of San Francisco has signalled its arrival on the international art museum circuit in style.

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The newly redesigned museum integrates a 10-story expansion in a new building Image by Getty

An extension to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or SFMOMA) has turned it into the largest art museum in the United States. The extension, opened last weekend, took three years to complete and cost US$305 million. The extension more than doubles the museum’s gallery space. At 145,000 square feet, it is about 20,000 square feet larger than New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The Norwegian design practice Snøhetta added wavy white panels to the exterior of the 1995 building designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. The panels are intended to evoke the city’s waterfront location and the famous waves of fog that regularly drift in off the Pacific.

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The newly redesigned museum integrates a 10-story expansion in a new building Image by Getty

The museum’s collections have also been extended. Some 200 donors have given, promised or lent the museum more than 4000 new works by such art-world luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Diane Arbus, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol. Other new features include a sculpture garden, a living wall composed of about 20,000 plants, and an entire floor (the third) given over to photography, one of the strengths of the museum’s collection.

A woman takes a photo of an art piece inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
A woman takes a photo of an art piece inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Image by Getty

The museum has used the extension to overhaul the museum in all kinds of ways. The wall labels have been rewritten to be more accessible, and even the audio guides have received a makeover, featuring comedians, sportscasters and actors from the television show Silicon Valley. But the extension has been criticized in some quarters, with a Guardian reviewer describing it as “like a gigantic meringue, a building-sized baked alaska slumped on the skyline.” Thankfully, some things haven’t changed – the permanent collection can still be found on the second floor of the museum’s original section.

Visitors to the museum will henceforth enter through a new main entrance on Howard Street, although the old entrance on Third Street is still in use. They’ll pass the monumental Richard Serra sculpture Sequence on their way in. Everything on the ground floor is free, and children and teens up to 18 years old can visit the entire building gratis. For everyone else, tickets cost $25.