Up on SFMOMA's Roof



Peaceful, it was not up on the roof Friday at the patron’s party celebrating the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s wondrous new Rooftop Sculpture Garden.

Rather, the spirit inspired by this garden of sculptural delights was fantastical, exciting, beautiful, sky-blue and scintillating.

Or as SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra succinctly stated: “It’s pretty terrific!”

SFMOMA Board Chairman Charles Schwab was appropriately wowed, too.

“It just looks spectacular,” said Schwab, who was also excited that the fog-free evening would provide a glimpse of an almost-full moon that night. “Aside from the great art, Stanlee (Gatti) thinks this space will become a great place to hold parties.”

And a great party it was on Friday as this family of SFMOMA leaders partook of a private preview (elegantly organized by Helen Schwab and Elaine McKeon) which featured a cocktail reception amid the artworks followed by dinner atop artfully designed tables a la Gatti.

“The artwork is the focus so I wanted to keep the decor very simple,” explained Gatti. “I just used Yves Klein-blue tablecloths set with trays of green grass. This space is really all about sky and garden.”

And a fanciful feast created by McCall Associates was its own work of art: spring pea gazpacho, green and white asparagus salad, luscious Lobster pot pie and a trio of brulees and pot au creme. All washed down with some very primo vino: 1986 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac.

“The history of the Garden is a long, long story,” explained Benezra, of the project which was nothing less than Biblical in its creation. “Basically, it starts in 1989. Six years before SFMOMA was even open on this site. Gerson Bakar wrote a letter to PacBell, which at the time, owned this beautiful Timothy Pflueger-Art Deco building behind us.”

SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, artist Ellsworth Kelly and SFMOMA Senior Curator Of Painting And Sculpture Gary Garrels

Bakar, a longtime SFMOMA Trustee and civic leader, first suggested to the company (now known as AT&T) that it join the museum in creating the garage which is (now) situated between the two buildings.

“And nothing happened for 15 years,” said Benezra. “But Gerson was the guy with the vision. And he had a lot of accomplices, too. He and then-Mayor Willie Brown would meet in some dark, out-of-the-way place and come out with an agreement!”

Joined to the brick-clad Mario Botta-designed museum proper, the garden (set atop the eighth floor of the Museum’s Minna Street garage) is accessed by the 100-foot-long, glassed-in Gerson and Barbara Bakar Bridge which offers breathtaking views of the City skyline.

“It’s really hard to walk in here and not look at the space as an architect,” said project architect Mark Jensen, attempting levity. “There were so many incredibly complex issues to overcome -- code issues, property line issues. But start to finish, the project took just three years. And everybody still likes each other!”

“Like each other,” and SFMOMA, these folks must. As the project cost $18 million. But these super SFMOMA supporters not only raised $24 million total, five families personally donated $5 million each to this rooftop wonder.

“We would not be here tonight without all of you -- simple words as that,” said Benezra to the gathered guests. “We are so grateful tonight to our donors. And to the young people here, I want to emphasize that what your families have done for this museum is something wonderful for San Francisco that will appreciated for many years to come.

“This Rooftop Garden opens up the museum to this city in the most wonderful way,” continued Benezra. “It speaks to the city of the future -- think of this as a building of our next bright future to come.”

The rooftop itself is sectioned into three different areas: The Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden (wherein stands Alexander Calder's Big Crinkly), The Carolyn and Preston Butcher Garden Terrace (featuring sculptures by Robert Arneson and Juan Muñoz) and the glass-enclosed Peter E. Haas Rooftop Pavilion (wherein resides Louise BourgeoisThe Nest, as well as the soon-to-open Blue Bottle Coffee Kiosk).

Some of the featured sculptures are new acquisitions, such as Ranjani Shettar's lovely Me, No, Not Me, Buy Me, Eat Me, Wear Me, Have Me, No, Not Me, a contextually humorous piece as it sits atop a parking garage and is comprised of the scrap metal of old cars. Others are gifts -- such as Mario Merz’s monumental stone-and-glass The Lens of Rotterdam which was donated by Dodie Rosekrans from her family’s Runnymede Sculpture Farm.

Many more of these sculptural standouts have been in the SFMOMA’s collection for years. However their size and scope wouldn’t allow for traditional viewing within the museum galleries. Now, the rooftop and adjacent Overlook Gallery adds an additional 15,000-square-feet of space that will allow for rotation and special exhibitions.

“Until about 1990, Stele I was just sitting in my backyard near the Berkshires. I must say, it looks much better here,” said artist and guest-of-honor Ellsworth Kelly, laughing about his 7-ton steel sculpture which now commands pride-of-place on the rooftop. “I’m delighted it finally has a home, and one with a climate better suited to its material.”

Kelly was also in town to work with SFMOMA Senior Curator Of Painting And Sculpture Gary Garrels on an oral history for the museum which holds the world’s greatest collection of major works (paintings, sculptures, collages, drawings) by the artist within its permanent collection.

But on Friday, the Sculpture Garden was foremost in Kelly’s mind: “When I checked into my room on the 19th floor of the St. Regis Hotel, I looked out the window and down on to the museum’s garden where I could see Stele I. And I said to myself, ‘Hurrah’!”

Check out the photos below.


Helen Schwab and her husband, SFMOMA Board Chairman Charles Schwab

View of the garden from the Roof

Artist Ranjani Shettar and her sculpture titled, Me, no, not me, buy me, eat me, wear me, have me, me, no, not me

SFMOMA Trustee Gerson Bakar and his wife, Barbara Bass Bakar

Former mayor Willie Brown and Sonya Molodetskaya

Large Torso Arch by sculptor Henry Moore

Kevin and Michelle Douglas with his parents, Jean and James Douglas

SFMOMA Trustee Carolyn Butcher and her husband, Preston Butcher

No Pain by sculptor Robert Arneson

William and Patricia Wilson

Cathy Topham, her mom, Elaine McKeon, Dodie Rosekrans and her son, Ned Topham

The Lens of Rotterdam by sculptor Mario Merz

SFMOMA Trustee Mimi Haas with her sons, Ari Lurie (left) and Daniel Lurie

Interior of the Peter E. Haas Rooftop Pavilion featuring The Nest by sculptor Louise Bourgeois

Detail of Stanlee Gatti-designed tables

Matt Paige, Helen Schwab, Stanlee Gatti and Katie Schwab

Johanna Grawunder, Virgin Mary sculpture by Kiki Smith and architect Mark Jensen

SFMOMA Trustee Marissa Mayer and her fiance, Zack Bogue

SFMOMA Trustee Mike Wilsey, his wife, Bobbie Wilsey and Gary Garrels

Lexie Fisher and her grandmother, Doris Fisher

Lorrie Greene, her husband, SFMOMA Board Vice-Chairman Richard Greene and SFMOMA Trustee Carlie Wilmans

Former Sec. of State George Shultz and his wife, SFMOMA Trustee Charlotte Shultz

Ned Topham and Erin Dineen

Former SFMOMA Board Chairman Elaine McKeon, Director Neal Benezra and his wife, Maria Makela

Drue Gensler and her husband, SFMOMA Board Vice-Chairman Arthur Gensler

SFMOMA Trustee David Mahoney and his wife, Winn Ellis

Cissie Swig, artist and SFMOMA Trustee Robert Bechtle and Albert Schreck

SFMOMA Trustee Brooks Walker, Jr. and his wife, Danielle Walker

Me, no, not me, buy me, eat me, wear me, have me, me, no, not me sculpture by Ranjani Shettar

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