SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

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Established in 1935 as the West Coast’s very first institute dedicated to 20th (and now 21st) century art, SFMOMA, or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Offering everything from cultural programs and lectures to tours, video screenings, and events, SFMOMA is now entering a new era of expansion that offers visitors a unique way to view some of the finest art of our time.


The internationally-renown museologist and modern art supporter Grace McCann Morley founded the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1935 to bring modern art to the west coast. Thanks, in part, to a donation made by Albert M. Bender, patron of the arts and close friend of Diego Rivera, the museum gained immediate acclaim. Initially donating 36 works including Rivera’s 1935 The Flower Carrier, Bender single-handedly formed the first permanent collection of the museum, subsequently donating a staggering 1,100 items in his lifetime.

From the start, SFMOMA (which added “Modern” to its name in 1975) broke ground in the art world. In only its second year, two local San Franciscans made possible an exhibition of the works of Henri Matisse, donating many of those pieces to the museum’s permanent collection. That same year, SFMOMA hired John Humphrey as a special curator of photographic works, making it one of the first major cultural institutions in the country to formally recognize photography as a fine art.

SFMOMA began its life as a tenant of the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building in the Civic Center in downtown San Francisco, remaining there until January of 1995 when it moved to its current location near Yurba Buena Gardens in the central part of the city proper in the SoMa (South of Market) district. The new building is largely credited with reviving that area and was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. It opened to coincide with the museum’s 60th anniversary as well as the launch of its institutional website, another area where SFMOMA was among the first.

Over the years, the collection of SFMOMA has continued to grow and now includes over 26,000 pieces displayed over five stories and 225,000 square feet. Indeed, like many modern museums the building itself, which is being expanded even further while the collection moves around the city, is as much as an icon as the masterpieces it houses. The current SFMOMA building includes features such as an atrium, theatre, store, café, education center, and extensive library with archives which will be expanded to include even twice its exhibit space for a fast-expanding collection.

Main Attraction

While it is being renovated, SFMOMA will be “on the move” throughout the city offering an ever-changing array of site-specific projects. This includes partnerships with other museums and cultural institutions throughout the city on an ever-changing basis. Each of these off-site exhibits will feature works drawn from the SFMOMA collection as well as special thematic elements such as lectures and semi-permanent special exhibitions. Visitors to the San Francisco area who want to view SFMOMA pieces will need to find a current schedule of exhibits through the SFMOMA website.

Why It’s a Must-See

Because it is in a state of flux until 2016, viewing SFMOMA is more difficult than it would be normally. However, this also offers San Francisco visitors a unique opportunity to see SFMOMA like never before and participate in history as it collaborates with other museums and institutions. This program as well as SFMOMA itself really just represents what art really means: bringing people together.