The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is dedicated to making the art for our time a vital and meaningful part of public life. Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, a thoroughly transformed SFMOMA, with triple the gallery space, an enhanced education center and new free ground-floor public galleries, opened to the public on May 14, 2016.
In addition to presentations drawn from its outstanding collection of over 34,000 artworks, as well as the renowned Doris and Donald Fisher Collection and the Pritzker Center for Photography, SFMOMA presents the following special and temporary exhibitions.
Updated: February 22, 2019
On view October 2019–February 2020
Floors 4 + 7
Soft Power is an exhibition of recent work and new commissions by 20 artists from around the world. Artists gathered here understand themselves as social actors, question their responsibility as citizens, and are aware of their role as public intellectuals and provocateurs. They are part of a generation of artists who explore the potential of art, and the potency of artist as citizen. Neither explicitly political nor purely abstract, works in the exhibition will take various forms, from sculpture, to architectural intervention, to performance. The title comes from the phrase coined by political scientist Joseph Nye in the 1980s that describes how one country persuades other countries to do what it wants without force or coercion. Soft Power appropriates this term as a provocation.
Lead support for Soft Power is provided by The Fund for Contemporary Art. Generous support is provided by Diana Nelson and John Atwater.
On view July–December 2019
There’s no success like failure. Artists know that better than everyone else. Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes will explore the way in which certain photographic techniques considered errors by one generation of photographers became interesting aesthetic proposals by the next generation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, proscriptive texts written by self-proclaimed photography experts proliferated in amateur manuals and periodicals. The next generation saw the rise of modernist photography, much of which pushed back against established rules and strictures. By pairing modernist photographs by artists such as Man Ray, Dora Maar and Lisette Model with these documents, this exhibition will examine the changing definitions of “good” and “bad” photography, while also considering how tastes evolved during this rich period in the history of medium. The show will conclude with a section of contemporary work by Sara Cwynar, John Gossage and Andy Mattern, which responds to the idea of failure and the photographic manual, underscoring the persistent nature of these concerns in photography.
On view August 2019–January 2020
In 1853, at the age of 21, John Beasley Greene (1832–56) set out for Egypt armed with a camera and a passion for archaeology. Over the course of an exceptionally brief career, he created a body of photographs in North Africa that was admired by his peers and which continues to capture contemporary audiences. Not only did he provide detailed records of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Algerian antiquities that helped advance the field, but his pictures also offer the sensitive impressions of a thoughtful visitor in an unfamiliar land. Greene was acutely attuned to the aesthetic possibilities of photography, and his compositions display a masterful grasp of the relationship between negative and positive space. He died at 24, leaving behind few records but hundreds of pictures. This exhibition, his first museum survey show, will present Greene’s visual record of the archaeological and colonial concerns of mid-19th-century France and a singular vision for the photographic description of landscape.
Generous support for Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene is provided by Wes and Kate Mitchell. Additional support is provided by Sakurako and William Fisher and Gary Sokol.
On view October 2019–February 2020
Richard Mosse’s three-screen digital projection Incoming (2017) charts the current refugee crisis in Europe. Epic in scope and by turns lyrical and vivid, harrowing and violent, the film installation tracks two major flows of human migration from war-torn regions of Africa and the Middle East to emergency shelters in France and Germany. Utilizing camera technology originally designed for military use, the otherworldly footage evokes the sense that viewers are watching the action covertly as if through night-vision goggles. This presentation will be the U.S. premiere of the 52-minute film, and will also be accompanied by a selection of related photographs of refugee camps.
On view November 2019–April 2020
Since 1967, SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) has honored more than 70 Bay Area artists with the biennial SECA Art Award, which includes an exhibition at SFMOMA and an accompanying catalogue. Recipients of the SECA Art Award are chosen by SFMOMA curators following a yearlong process involving artists, SECA members, museum staff and members of the local arts community. Presented in SFMOMA’s California galleries on Floor 2, the 2019 SECA Art Award exhibition will highlight the work of the newest award recipients.