Monday, June 22, 2009

SFMOMA: Rooftop Garden, Robert Frank's Americans

Roof top garden at sf momaOver the weekend, I visited the SFMOMA & headed straight to the top floor to check out the new rooftop sculpture garden. After crossing the elevated walkway at the back of the building, I was in an airy glass atrium. This space opens to outdoor areas on both sides, though the north side seems disproportionately narrow & meager. The space also has the faint but alluring aroma of Blue Bottle Coffee. I suspect that many museum members will visit just to use this strategically-placed coffee bar.

Robert arneson at sf momaThe sculpture garden is high-walled & has planted areas & bench seating. The walls make it impossible to tell how high up we are & make the place feel far removed from the street. It was warm & clear & therefore a perfect day to be be outside. I liked seeing No Pain, a large bronze head of Robert Arneson, emerging crooked-neck from the pavement.

After checking out the rooftop, I spent most of my time in the exhibit Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans". This is a well-done show commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Frank's famous photo essay. Besides prints of all the photos from the book, the exhibit includes instructive samples of Frank's early documentary photos & his experiments in creating themes by juxtaposing images. I loved his cinematic photo of people walking down a narrow London street in 1951. Other fascinating items are Frank's contact sheets, the original typewritten manuscript of Jack Kerouac's introductory essay, & a wall of pinned-up prints, demonstrating Frank's editing process for the book.

Frank's vision no longer looks fresh, but it does capture the era. Certainly the gap between the rich & poor still exists, as does the centrality of the automobile in American culture. The jukebox, which figures prominently as a symbol of loneliness, has practically disappeared, though, as have those drug store counters. The issues of race in this country have greatly expanded since Frank gave us his small hints.


Stephanie Dodaro said...

Wow, I'd go just to see "London street in 1951". I hope it isn't tiny. (If it is, don't tell me.)

Very curious to see how the architecture of the rooftop garden meshes with the Botta-designed museum...

Axel Feldheim said...

I hope you get a chance to visit the Frank exhibit. The London picture is not a tiny print. Even though the exhibit largely reproduces the contents of The Americans, at least the prints are much larger.

I can't see that the rooftop garden actually makes any changes to the museum, since it's really on top of a separate building. I forget to check, but I suppose you can see the elevated walkway from Mission Street.