Class #12: SFMOMA – November 7th


Informative and multi-faceted visit to MOMA, hosted by Jaimeson Daley, Program Associate in Higher & Continuing Education, that  included staff presentations and dialogue with staffers Sriba Kwadjovie Quintana and Ian Gill; a close-looking exercise; museum explorations on our own with prompts; and a class debrief and discussion back in the Koret Education Center.

Part I:  Staff Presentations & Dialogue in Koret Education Center

Decolonization – Sriba Kwadjovie Quintana, Intellectual Property Manager and Ian Gill Documentation Associate discussed their work through the museums cultural equity and inclusion lens.

Sriba, who has worked at the museum for 7 years comes from a background in dance and law school, was surprised when she first arrived at SFMOMA to find the predominant focus on white male art and artists. After the 2016 elections, conversation about cultural equity deepened at the museum and a Cultural Equity & Inclusion Committee was established, addressing all internal and external aspects of the museum.  She is glad to serve on this committee and be part of the conversation, even though this is not her area of expertise. The committee is composed of representatives from an array of program areas including curatorial, education, administration and HR.  The committee is contracting with training with diversity professionals who provide guidance in tackling issues of inclusion, race, gender, etc.  She enjoys sharing her knowledge of artists of color within the group.

Ian works on the collections database, verifying and providing access to information within the museum and online, as well as helping the staff utilize information.  He showed us a power point with graphs and dashboard metrics breaking out data by demographics for FY 17-FY 19.  These metrics help the staff get a handle on the data to target needs and examine if and where they are making progress over time.  Demographic categories include: living artists, gender, first acquisition, nationality, artists of color, etc.  The figures we were shown (that did not include the Fisher Collection) reveal a white male, North American artists emphasis in the collection and aquisition patterns. In keeping with MOMAs most recent strategic plan, the chief curator is working to build a more diverse collection with a vested interest in including under-represented artists.  One way they are doing this is by selling off major works, like a recent Rothko, to finance new acquisitions.

Museum Overview – Jaimeson gave a quick presentation.  Using power point slides, he began by touching on the museum’s mission and vision that includes fostering creativity and engaging new ways of seeing the world.  He went on to highlight the museum’s history, organizational structure and five collecting departments.  A few highlights:

      • Moves and changes from the SF War Memorial Building (1935-95); (1995-2013) to the Mario Botta designed museum on Third Street) and its current (2016) Snøhetta redesigned expansion, tripling the amount of gallery space available and adding a second entrance.
      • Founding Director, Grace McCann Morley and her populist approach
      • The Museum’s structure and collection departments (painting/sculpture, photography, media arts, design/architecture and contemporary art)
      • Free Spaces with access to exhibitions — staircase area with JR’s interactive digital mural The Chronicles of San Francisco (where Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural will be place on temporary loan from CCSF in 2020); the atrium lobby with Julie Mehretu’s Howl abstractions; the Koret Education Center with the Public Knowledge Library
      • Some fun facts revealed:  Over 50,000 school and university students visit the museum each year;  Annual operating budget of $60 million; 170,000 square feet of gallery space (3x the size of a football field).

Part II:  Observations in the Galleries

Close Looking Exercise. Jaimeson led us to the 4th floor galleries to view the exhibit On a Clear Day: Agnes Martin and Mark Bradford  He gave us a few observation prompts, i.e. what mood, techniques, materials are being used; what title would we give the show.  We then took one minute to look at Martin’s series of drawings and one minute to look at Bradford’s piece.  To debrief, we gathered together for a discussion of our observations facilitated by Jaimeson. You compared and contrasted the artworks reflecting your observations–MARTIN: orderly lines, repetition that created a calm feeling, human touch–looks like she used a ruler but probably didn’t because of the line quality, simple, boring…  BRADFORD: use of color–blue/white–create depth, serene/calm, layered materials (glossy vs matte) interspersed horizontal and vertical forms, chaotic, complex, collage, exciting, urban.  You suggested a few titles:  “I Really Want To Get This Right” , “Similarity / Dissimilarity” , “We Can See Forever”.

Jaimeson discussed his appreciation of this exercise for extracting value, noting that research studies state the average looking time for any given artwork is between 5-27 seconds. He gave us a few details on the artists reflecting on how their works can be interpreted through knowing a bit about the artist’s background and life experiences. Martin, Canadian-born, taught at Columbia Teachers College.  Her pieces are conceptual and based on feelings of inadequacy and are driven by obsessive compulsive tendencies.  She suffered from mental illness–paranoid schizophrenia.  Bradford grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He uses found objects in his work that he often layers, builds up and sands down. His mother was a hairdresser and in this work he uses a common beauty salon material – hair heating pads.

Before leaving us, as a prelude to exploring the galleries further, Jaimeson encouraged us to look at the Soft Power exhibition on the 4th and 7th floors.  He told us a little about the show that considers the ways in which artists deploy art to explore their roles as citizens and social actors. Appropriated from the Reagan-era term used to describe how a country’s “soft” assets such as culture, political values, and foreign policies can be more influential than coercive or violent expressions of power, the exhibition’s title articulates a contemplation about the potential of art and a provocation to the public to exert their own influence on the world.


Museum Explorations – We toured the museum on our own or in pairs, selecting one of the following prompts to guide observations.

      1. Intimate ObservationCan art shift your thinking or perceptions? Find a work of art or exhibition area that you find challenging, difficult or NOT of particular interest to you. Something you wouldn’t normally be drawn to.  Spend some time with it (10-15 minutes at least)- experiment with immersive and/or discursive approaches. Is there something you can find that shifts your first impression after closer observation? Was this experience meaningful to you?  Was it worth your effort?  Why/why not?  Jot down notes on your experience.
      2. Global Observation – Ponder the role of art and art museums as you wander.  SFMOMA’s mission is dedicated to making the art for our time a vital a meaningful part of public life.  Also mentioned is the museum’s commitment to fostering creativity and embracing new ways of seeing the world.  As you roam the museum according to your own compass, what strategies do you see in play. Is your creativity sparked?  Where and how?  What inspired, challenged and/or extended your thinking in new ways?
      3. Free Areas – Spend time in MOMA’s free spaces–where no admission fee is required. (for example: the area with the steps where the JR mural is; the Koret Education Center). Do these areas feel welcoming and engaging? Re Nina Simon video on relevance–reflect on who would feel welcome here–who might not?  What strategies, if any, for engagement are in play?  Observe who is in these spaces and how they are spending their time there. Can you identify any contrasts between these areas and the paid areas of the museum?
      4. Open Inquiry – Give yourself a question of personal interest to investigate. Think about this as you explore the museum. What did you discover in response to your question?

Part III:  Class Discussion Session – We gathered for class business, dialogue and debrief in the Koret Education Center classroom.

Blog Discussion  – I pointed to the different perspectives on engagement and decolonizing that are popping up on the blog and expressed appreciation for honest and thoughtful posts, as well as staying attuned to a respectful dialogue across varied perspectives.  We discussed different forms, styles and stages of development at museums for engagement and decolonization efforts.  At the OMCA they are decolonizing exhibits at the co-creative curatorial level and at the Asian Art Museum they are focusing on evolving these strategies through education and community programming and partnerships attached to exhibits and not within curation. This led into a conversation about the differences in staff behind-the-scenes talks at the Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA.  Some were disappointed with or took offense at the Asian Art Museum talk, while others found inspiration and value.  Some preferred the MOMA presentation–felt the staff was well prepared with power point slides; others preferred the Asian Art Museum experience with a less formal and frank, critical conversation that included a discussion of internal value differences and challenges within the museum that arose from our discussion of the #White People Doing Yoga article in Mother Jones. Looking forward to our on-going, deepening enriching conversation as we continue to learn, open up and challenge ourselves and each other. I am grateful for this opportunity to navigate and find meaning across difference, collectively with classmates.

Exploration Debrief – We focused discussion on two prompts that you selected–#1 Intimate Observations and #3 Free Areas.   A few highlights below.

  1. Soft Power – Many of you spent time in the Soft Power exhibition, persisting in looking more deeply at one or more artworks you didn’t like or appeared confusing and challenging.  With limited interpretive signage, a few found something meaningful after sticking with the works for awhile. Bernice extracted meaning from one of the works via a personal experience she had with hippo dung used as fertilizer in a rose garden while working in Africa, seeing the contrast between the large fecal like object on the lawn chair with umbrella sculpture realizing that it was a critique on colonialism and luxury vacationing.  Nat made a connection with Andean symbology and found a nook for a narrative digital work that included a timeline of immigration but she felt it included a bias for Obama policies despite extensive deportations carried out during his administration. Constance spent time with a work called Three Graces made of fiberglass forms that she found disgusting at first, then saw them as angel wings conveying a meaning of sickness and disease in the world.  Pete spent time with a large transparent glass rectangle sculpture with a mysterious ghostly body with what he thought of as a circulatory system inside–and was pleased to find an actual representative form.  Signage in another part of the gallery revealed that this was part of the Encyclopedia of Invisibility series–bringing to light stories like that of Henrietta Lacks an African-American woman whose cancer cells became the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research that was obtained without her knowledge or permission.
  1. Free Areas – Vilde explored some of the free spaces and commented that the downstairs lobby was welcoming and felt comfortable with the inclusion of pleasant seating areas; in the stair-step area, with the JR mural, she observed a diverse group of visitors; the gift store was colorful and inviting; the restaurant on the first floor was not welcoming, very expensive and included a $99 entre. Even though anyone could enter, she felt most people would not.

Final Project – I distributed and reviewed the final project guidelines and documents that includes a 5-7 minute presentation and requires submission of the Cover Sheet and Research Worksheet.   Apologies again for forgetting to bring, the alternative final project for Pass/No Pass students–Reflection Paper 3–a two-page, double spaced reflection paper.  You can find final assignment documents with full instructions available for download on the website, Class Documents menu, here.  Please review and let instructors know if you have any questions.  Everything is due on December 19th.

Meeting with Leslie at the Ocean Campus. Here’s the map. We’re going to be moving around a bit, so be sure you know where we will convene and where we will be at each new session. As you can see, Frida Kahlo Way still appears as Phelan Avenue on the map.
Focus: Free Exhibitions on a College Campus
2:10-3:00 p.m.
Science Hall at the Dinosaur Exhibition
(ground floor aka basement, south side–closest to Ocean)
This is the start of “The Story of Time and Life” in Science Hall.
The elevator is located in the center of the building. You will see a link on the map in the lower right hand corner to the ADA Access Guide. 
FYI Science Hall is on the hill in the middle of the campus.
3:00-3:15 p.m.
We will make our way over to the Diego Rivera Theater on the north side of campus–closest to Judson.
3:15-4:00 p.m.
Pan American Unity Mural, aka, CCSF’s Diego Rivera Mural
Guided tour with docent and former Museum Studies student Helen Pinto
4:00-4:15 p.m.
as we move over to the Creative Arts Building
4:15-5:00 p.m.
Creative Arts Room 218
Dialogue, slide show, and discussion
Bonus Tour after class
If you can stay until 5:20, please plan on doing so, and I’ll take you on a tour of two Groundswell projects: Cloud Hall Reading Garden and Cloud Hall Gallery.
HOMEWORK – due Nov 14 unless otherwise notes

Long Term Notes

  • FINAL: Research & Development – on going work for final due December 19th —Final project (for all graded students)or Reflection Paper #3 (for all pass/no pass students)
  • MISSING CLASS/LATE ASSIGNMENTS NOTE:  Don’t forget you can earn back points for up to three missed classes, by completing a field trip make up form.
  • MISSING ASSIGNMENTS: If this applies, please see me about turning in ASAP



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