SFMOMA Celebrates the Golden Gate Bridge at 75

Overview

Iain Baxter (now IAIN BAXTER&), Golden Gate Bridge, from the series Reflected San Francisco Beauty Spots, 1979; print; photo-etching and aquatint, 34 in. x 29 5/8 in. (86.36 cm x 75.25 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase with the aid of funds from the Ruth and Moses Lasky Fund and the Byron R. Meyer Fund; © Iain Baxter&
Iain Baxter (now IAIN BAXTER&), Golden Gate Bridge, from the series Reflected San Francisco Beauty Spots, 1979; photo-etching and aquatint; Collection SFMOMA, Purchase with the aid of funds from the Ruth and Moses Lasky Fund and the Byron R. Meyer Fund; © Iain Baxter&
Pirkle Jones, Log and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952; ca. 1968; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation
Pirkle Jones, Log and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952; ca. 1968; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation

Join us onsite and online as we pay tribute to this iconic symbol of San Francisco. As part of the Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary Festival, SFMOMA livens up Memorial Day Weekend with bridge-building family activities. Enjoy a special bridge-inspired dessert at the Blue Bottle Coffee Bar and bridge-related merchandise at the MuseumStore all summer long. Visit the SFMOMA Artists Gallery at Fort Mason for the opening of a new exhibition of Golden Gate Bridge–themed artworks by Bay Area artists beginning May 26. The celebration continues online with specially commissioned posts by artists and writers on the SFMOMA blog Open Space, and below you can find Picturing the Golden Gate: An Online Exhibition, showing highlights of the Golden Gate Bridge in SFMOMA's permanent collection, with an introduction by SFMOMA Associate Curator of Photography Corey Keller.

Picturing the Golden Gate: About the Online Exhibition

Nearly a hundred years before a graceful bridge spanned its waters, the Golden Gate strait served as a symbol of San Francisco. Buffeted by fierce winds, laced with treacherous currents, and frequently obscured by fog, this narrow passage of water joining the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean epitomized the conditions of the city's geographic location at what seemed to many nineteenth-century Americans like the end of the earth. Yet it was also the conduit through which this sleepy fur-trading outpost had been transformed into a vibrant metropolis. Prior to the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, tens of thousands of men and women passed by ship through the Golden Gate to seek their fortunes in the West. In the Carleton Watkins photograph The Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill (ca. 1868), a bustling port and city streets chock-a-block with new construction dominate the frame, and the outline of the Marin Headlands disappears into an atmospheric haze. The city emerges against a seamless melding of water and sky, marking the culmination of America's expansion from sea to shining sea.

The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge across the strait (1933 - 1937) provided San Francisco with an iconic landmark, an immediately and universally recognizable symbol that once again visually reinforced the city's connection to notions of progress and futurity. The elegance of the bridge's engineering (it was, at the time, the world's longest suspension bridge) and its integration into the natural landscape inspired countless artists. In Pirkle Jones's Log and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco (1952), a view dominated by a large piece of driftwood in the foreground, every sign of human civilization – except the bridge's slender span – has been excluded from the frame, giving the impression that the great structure is as natural and timeless as the area's magnificent scenery.

Gabriele Basilico, an Italian photographer commissioned by SFMOMA to document the landscapes of and around Silicon Valley, took an entirely different approach. Though it was shot only a few years ago, Basilico's San Francisco (2007) is a nostalgic image, showing both how much and how little has changed since Watkins photographed the city more than a hundred years ago. The picture was made during Basilico's first visit to California, and his wonderment is apparent in every detail, from the rolling urban topography to the flattened purple planes of the Marin hills to the glimpses of the bridge's distinctive orange hue seen through the clouds. Basilico's romantic pictorial description of the city and the fog-shrouded bridge is reminiscent of a passage from John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley (1962), in which the author describes the view of San Francisco from Marin: "I stopped in a parking place to look at her and the necklace bridge over the entrance from the sea that led to her. Over the green higher hills to the south, the evening fog rolled like herds of sheep coming to cote in the golden city. I've never seen her more lovely."

Corey Keller
Associate Curator of Photography, SFMOMA

PHOTOGRAPHS

Ansel Adams, The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco, California, ca. 1932; printed ca. 1972; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Alfred Fromm, Otto Meyer, and Louis Petri, San Francisco; © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust Ansel Adams, The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco, California, ca. 1932; printed ca. 1972gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Alfred Fromm, Otto Meyer, and Louis Petri, San Francisco; © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Ansel Adams, Marin Hills, over the Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco, ca. 1950; printed ca. 1972; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Alfred Fromm, Otto Meyer, and Louis Petri, San Francisco; © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust Ansel Adams, Marin Hills, over the Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco, ca. 1950; printed ca. 1972; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Alfred Fromm, Otto Meyer, and Louis Petri, San Francisco; © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Gabriele Basilico, San Francisco, 2007, 2007; digital pigment print; Collection SFMOMA; Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Anonymous Donors' Challenge Fund; © Gabriele Basilico Gabriele Basilico, San Francisco, 2007, 2007; digital pigment print; Collection SFMOMA; Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Anonymous Donors' Challenge Fund; © Gabriele Basilico
Iain Baxter (now IAIN BAXTER&), Golden Gate Bridge, from the series Reflected San Francisco Beauty Spots, 1979; print; photo-etching and aquatint, 34 in. x 29 5/8 in. (86.36 cm x 75.25 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase with the aid of funds from the Ruth and Moses Lasky Fund and the Byron R. Meyer Fund; © Iain Baxter& Iain Baxter (now IAIN BAXTER&), Golden Gate Bridge, from the series Reflected San Francisco Beauty Spots, 1979photo-etching and aquatint; Collection SFMOMA, Purchase with the aid of funds from the Ruth and Moses Lasky Fund and the Byron R. Meyer Fund; © Iain Baxter&
John Gutmann, Looking from Ferry Boat at Golden Gate with One Bridge Tower Completed..., 1934; photograph; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; © 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents John Gutmann, Looking from Ferry Boat at Golden Gate with One Bridge Tower Completed..., 1934gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; © 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents
Pirkle Jones, Breaking Wave, Golden Gate, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952, printed 1968; photograph; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation Pirkle Jones, Breaking Wave, Golden Gate, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952, printed 1968; photograph; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation
Pirkle Jones, Log and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952; ca. 1968; photograph; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation Pirkle Jones, Log and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, from Portfolio Two..., 1952; ca. 1968gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Acquired through purchase and exchange; © The Pirkle Jones Foundation
Carleton E. Watkins, San Francisco Bay. Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill, ca. 1884; albumen prints; Collection of the Sack Photographic Trust and fractional gift of Paul Sack to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Carleton E. Watkins, San Francisco Bay. Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill, ca. 1884; albumen prints; Collection of the Sack Photographic Trust and fractional gift of Paul Sack to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
 Willard E. Worden, Ships on the Bay, Golden Gate, 1904; photograph; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Robert Harshorn Shimshak Willard E. Worden, Ships on the Bay, Golden Gate, 1904gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Robert Harshorn Shimshak