Imagine you’re at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Imagine, to be exact, that you’re in the center of the Helen and Charles Schwab Hall. Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 895: Loopy Doopy (white and blue) undulates around you, beckoning upwards to the thousands of square feet of galleries above. The only question now is where to start.
Choose your own adventure. You can: A) take the stairs straight to the third floor’s not-to-be-missed Diane Arbus show and work your way up from there; or B) take an elevator right to the top, to the seventh floor’s excellent trio of exhibitions, and work your way down.
You can’t go wrong, you think. But you would be mistaken, because there’s a secret, hidden, not-so-obvious third option in this museum adventure, and it’s C) don’t go anywhere.
That’s because the Koret Education Center, located just off the second-floor lobby, contains more than just cubbies full of museum-going students’ backpacks. It’s currently the site of a small exhibition by New York-based artist Andrea Geyer, To Those Who Have Eyes to See, an installation devoted to the legacy and ideals of Grace McCann Morley, SFMOMA’s founding director.
Geyer’s installation includes floor-to-ceiling textiles, a remapped history of modernism focusing on women’s contributions to the movement, images from a women’s march, a video reenactment of Morley’s hopes for the museum, and — a modern museum taboo — plants.
Two walls of curtains cut through the education center, mimicking an exhibition of textiles held at the museum during Morley’s tenure. In this contemporary incarnation, Geyer screenprints the different colored linen with logos and drawings from lesbian and feminist organizations of the mid-20th century.
Inside the cozy space created by the curtains, ample seating allows visitors of all ages to sit and watch Manifest, a 20-minute video featuring two performers — one dressed as Morley, the other representing a modern everywoman — speak of what a museum should be for the public and do for the public. The script mixes Morley’s own writings and lectures with words from Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt and contemporary thinkers like UC Berkeley political scientist Wendy Brown.
Morley believed art and museums were not luxuries for the select few, but civic necessities — a founding principle that, like so many idealistic notions from her era, hasn’t held up against the realities of the modern-day economy (a $6–$8 surcharge, for example, applies to SFMOMA’s upcoming special exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn, on top of the standard $25 adult admission).
Unlike the rest of the museum’s second floor (including, by extension, Richard Serra’s Sequence), entry to the Koret Education Center is ticketed. But one element of To Those Who Have Eyes to See is free of charge — a hefty and completely necessary takeaway publication detailing women’s often-uncredited contributions to the art world as we know it today.
So before you grapple with A versus B, choose C, and think about what a museum should be and do.
To Those Who Have Eyes to See is on view at the Koret Education Center at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through Aug. 15. For more information visit sfmoma.org.