Museum Guide: Open to the Public

by Jennifer Massoni Pardini and Anh-Minh Le

As our great cultural institutions responded to the waves of modern pandemic life, experiencing art up close and in person was a temporary sacrifice along the way. While we missed seeing Julie Mehretu’s “Howl” diptych at SFMOMA, Rodin’s “The Thinker” at the Cantor and Albert Bierstadt’s 1872 “Yosemite Winter Scene” at BAMPFA, one thing was clear: The incredible access we have to world-class art in the Bay Area would never again be taken for granted. In celebration of open museums near and far, the Gazette curated a list of top art and culture draws in the coming months. Keep this guide on hand in anticipation of must-see exhibitions as well as for insider intel.


Courtesy of Museum

Museum of the African Diaspora


★FUN FACT: Thanks to KP Thrive at MoAD, a new partnership with Kaiser Permanente, through August, admission is free on the last Saturday of each month.

♥ DON’T MISS: The Smithsonian-affiliated museum’s current exhibition season features David Huffman: Terra Incognita (through 9/18), Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art (through 9/21), Cynthia Aurora Brannvall: The Threads That Bind (through 6/12) and Sam Vernon: Impasse of Desires is (through 9/18). Also, be sure to peruse the comprehensive MoAD Bookstore.

California Academy of Sciences


★FUN FACT: See not one but 10 signed screen prints by Andy Warhol, gifted to the Academy by Pat and Bill Wilson. The animals in “Endangered Species” (1983) include California’s bald eagle, which has since come back from the brink of extinction, and the black rhinoceros, still critically endangered.

♥ DON’T MISS: Bugs, an exhibition with larger-than-life models plus immersive experiences and activities, opens 5/27. In the meantime, catch Living Worlds at the Morrison Planetarium. Narrated by Daveed Diggs, the show ponders changes to our home planet and looks for similarities on planets far, far away.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum


★FUN FACT: Wise Sons Jewish Deli is on-site, so consider enjoying a repast at the museum, whose brick portion, built in 1881, once served as a power substation, while its contemporary Studio Libeskind–designed steel structure was completed in 2008.

♥ DON’T MISS: Always wanted to try your hand at puppeteering or see yourself on The Muppet Show set? Then get over to The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited (through 8/14).

“First Impressions” (1981) By Carlos Villa, Photography © Asian Art Museum Of San Francisco

Asian Art Museum


★FUN FACT: The museum’s Thursday Night events returned this year, with some slated for in person, like the June 9 world premiere of Lenora Lee Dance’s site-responsive performance piece, Convergent Waves: SF, described as “a journey … where stories of community agency, resilience and transformation unfold.”

♥ DON’T MISS: Look around before you enter the museum, as Chanel Miller’s “I was, I am, I will be” and Jenifer K Wofford’s “Pattern Recognition” are viewable from Hyde Street. Once inside, Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision (opening 6/17) presents the first major museum retrospective of the late Filipino American artist, who was a native San Franciscan. As part of the exhibition’s programming, there will be a Thursday Night art workshop in September and a listening party (with DJ and dancing!) in October.



★FUN FACT: The gift shop is home to an Art-o-mat, a retired cigarette vending machine that now purveys small works of art for just $5.

♥ DON’T MISS: While it’s all the rage now, the Exploratorium has long centered on immersive and interactive exhibits — including Seeing & Reflections in the Bechtel Gallery 3, with experiments in light, mirrors and bubbles; and the Distorted Room in the outdoor area, where optical illusions are at play.

de Young Museum


★FUN FACT: The floors and ceilings of the galleries are lined in eucalyptus wood, a nod to the trees that grow in the vicinity.

♥ DON’T MISS: Earlier this year, it was announced that The Obama Portraits Tour would expand to include the de Young (6/18–8/14), making it one of only seven cities to show the paintings of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. And speaking of portraits, Alice Neel: People Come First is on view through 7/10.

Museum of Craft and Design


★ FUN FACT: Within a 10- minute walk of MCD, enjoy more art at Minnesota Street Project, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Romer Young Gallery, Hugomento and, as of this fall, the new Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco.

♥ DON’T MISS: Iris Eichenberg: Where Words Fail (6/25–10/30) will provide the first comprehensive midcareer survey in the U.S. of the contemporary artist’s aesthetic. (Psst … the gift shop carries works by lots of local artists.)

Photo courtesy of Henrik Kam.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


★FUN FACT: The pbl on each floor are painted a different hue, from bright red to grassy green. They’re so cool, there’s even a website (sfmomabathrooms.com) dedicated to them.

♥ DON’T MISS: For more vibrant encounters, head to the fifth floor’s Contemporary Optics: Olafur Eliasson, Teresita Fernández, and Anish Kapoor (through 12/11). Four sculptures — including Eliasson’s kaleidoscopic “One-Way Colour Tunnel” that you walk across — explore color, light and human perception.


Courtesy of Museum

Cantor Arts Center


★FUN FACT: Tootsie’s, the second Stanford location of the popular cafe — from the same folks behind Vina Enoteca restaurant — is now open, serving paninis, salads and pastas.

♥ DON’T MISS: A Loaded Camera: Gordon Parks is on view through 6/3, and the following month, The Faces of Ruth Asawa opens with an installation of 233 clay masks. While the Cantor is well known for its outdoor attractions — like the Rodin Sculpture Garden and Richard Serra’s “Sequence” — head across the street to check out Andy Goldsworthy’s “Snake River.” And visit the contemporary Anderson Collection next door, which, like the Cantor, is free. Register to take advantage of the two museums’ next Family Day, 5/15, a biannual alfresco event featuring activities and performances.

Courtesy of Museum.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum


★FUN FACT: The museum is part of Rosicrucian Park, which is also home to the Rosicrucian Labyrinth, Alchemy Garden, Rosicrucian Planetarium and more.

♥ DON’T MISS: While there’s plenty to see here — the museum has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America, including one of only seven ancient statues of Cleopatra VII that survived — a definite highlight is the underground tomb. The Tomb Tour transports visitors to the Middle Kingdom 4,000 years ago — right in the middle of San Jose.

San José Museum of Art


★FUN FACT: Dine at the on-site El Cafecito, beneath a commissioned work of art, “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” by San Francisco–based artist Julie Chang. “In her mural, plum branches intertwine with circuit boards and transit lines in an abstract representation of the legacy of Silicon Valley,” says Nidhi Gandhi, the museum’s new curatorial and programs associate.

♥ DON’T MISS: Jean Conner: Collage (5/6–9/25) will highlight the whimsical Bay Area artist’s critiques of how the media represents women and war, technology and the environment. Celebrate the show’s opening during the museum’s First Friday event, 5/6, 6–9 p.m. For the next few months, catch Indian artist Ashutosh Bhardwaj’s “Induced Epidemic” in the lobby, while Trevor Paglen’s first sound piece, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” occupies the SJMA clocktower through 11/6.


Courtesy of Museum.

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive


★FUN FACT: BAMPFA’s downtown Berkeley facility used to be a printing press — and a notable one at that. It was where the founding charter of the United Nations was printed, “just hours before it was whisked across the bridge to San Francisco and signed by dozens of world leaders on June 26, 1945 — officially establishing the U.N.,” says BAMPFA Media Relations Manager A.J. Fox.

♥DON’T MISS: BAMPFA recently acquired “Immigrant Woman Dress“ (1999) by Ester Hernández, a Chicanx artist best known for her images of Latina women with political, ecological and spiritual themes. This particular piece also displays sand to convey the passage of time and marigolds to pay tribute to ancestors like the artist’s grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. with coins and bills sewn into her garments. Chief curator Christina Yang says, “Herná ndez’s creation is an homage to stories of familial migration, as well as to feminist resourcefulness.”

Oakland Museum of California


★FUN FACT: Calling all culture kids! OMCA KIDS: Nature Playspace — designed for children ages 2 to 5 to explore the natural world through exhibitions and hands-on activities — opens 6/4.

♥ DON’T MISS: Edith Heath: A Life in Clay (through 10/30) celebrates the late Bay Area–based ceramicist. Also through October, the museum is presenting “Remembering Artist Hung Liu,” a tribute to the prolific painter who passed away last year at her home in Oakland.


Headlands Center for the Arts


★FUN FACT: Set your GPS to discover this internationally renowned artist-in-residency program set in the former Fort Barry military buildings atop the scenic and atmospheric Marin Headlands in Sausalito.

♥ DON’T MISS: This year, Headlands celebrates its 40th anniversary. Currently, every month the center hosts reserved experiences (e.g., studio tours or artist dinners in the historic Mess Hall) on its $1.8 million renovated campus. Site-specific works reflect its historic origins and natural setting, tended by resident artists.

Photo by Gary Ashley of “Dance of Malaga,” A film installation by Theaster Gates.

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art


★FUN FACT: Though it’s been open just five years, ARTnews listed the Shrem with the likes of the Louvre (founded in 1793) as one of the 25 best museum buildings of the last century. It’s the only California museum and public university museum to make the cut. And its art is free for all to see at UC Davis.

♥ DON’T MISS: From Moment to Movement: Picturing Protest in the Kramlich Collection (through 6/19) spans three decades and an international array of artists largely drawn from the Bay Area–based Kramlich Collection. In order to ponder protest, each work examines a real world moment. The museum’s annual student multidisciplinary showcase, Arts & Humanities Graduate Exhibition, is also back in person for the first time in two years (6/2–6/19).

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