The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) creates original exhibits and programs that serve as a catalyst to explore and discuss questions of identity underlying all things handmade. We bridge the gap between local and global diversities and build common ground by making contemporary craft a collective enterprise.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) brings together some of the great art and artists of the modern age through a variety of exhibitions, talks, and other programming. The 75-year-old institution's permanent collection of more than 26,000 works of art allows it to provide guests with a rich variety of disparate exhibitions, such as "Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection,". This exhibition invites museum-goers to make the acquaintance of more than 160 pieces—including works by Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, and others—drawn from a larger collection that SFMOMA will house and display through a partnership with Doris and Donald Fisher, who founded Gap. The collection will not be on public view again until the expanded Museum reopens in 2016. "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape," provides a frank and sometimes bleak look at the landscape as reinvented by human hands, and "Prints by Paul Klee (1946)," is a re-staging of a show first held at the museum just after World War II. Weekly Curator Talks, including Peter Samis' upcoming discussion of Sigmar Polke's "Untitled (Magician)," augment the material on view throughout the museum by spotlighting individual artists and works.
When it comes to congratulating yourself, a pat on the back can seem forced and impersonal. Thankfully, a trip to the Exploratorium will let you give your upside-down clone a high-five. One of its most popular exhibits is a gigantic concave mirror, originally crafted as part of a space-shuttle flight simulator. The surface broadcasts a magnified but completely flipped version of your body—one that appears to float in space as you walk towards it.
The mirror illustrates that at this museum, ideas aren't invisible. You can touch, smell, and even taste them as you move through 600 exhibits, all of which push science out of the textbook and into the tactile realm. Given this, it seems inaccurate to call the Exploratorium a museum; its galleries are better described as ever-evolving laboratories where visitors truly do explore concepts from biology to magnetism. Senior Scientist Paul Doherty summed up this hands-on approach during an interview on PBS Newshour, saying, "We know we have a good exhibit when the person laughs and turns around and says to anybody passing, 'Hey, look at this.'"
The interactive stations occupy a sprawling, solar-powered building at Pier 15. The Exploratorium reopened here in April of 2013, following a 44-year stint in the Palace of Fine Arts. Now, there's more room for play in the warehouse-like environment. Exhibits range from the deceptively simple—a slinky on a treadmill, for example—to the grandiose and elaborate. Manmade geysers shoot water into the air while, in another corner, phosphor screens freeze human shadows. At the Everyone Is You & Me station, fiddling with light combines your reflection with that of the person sitting across from you, allowing you to blend your faces into one without bribing a caricature artist. A game of No Peek Pong requires hearing but no sight, as the ball's pitch indicates its nearness to the paddle. And, there are wonders to discover outside, such as a 27-foot Aeolian harp played by the wind.
Though it'd be tough to drag one of the microscopes at the Microscope Imaging Station away from its moorings, you needn't leave the Exploratorium empty-handed. Its Tinkering Studio supplies materials and instructions for pieces that marry art with science. Outline a pair of ethereal wings behind your photo with light painting, or connect old telephone wires and an LED to make a glowing circuit necklace, which also functions as a beacon if you become lost in your closet.
On April 18, 1906, the US economy could easily have been destroyed in one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the nation. A massive earthquake and subsequent fires ripped through the streets of San Francisco, leaving devastation in their wake. Though the downtown area and local banks were wiped out, the architect who had designed the Second San Francisco Mint—otherwise known as “The Old Mint” or “The Granite Lady"—knew that the Pacific coast was prone to earthquakes. He built the stately edifice to “float” on its foundations instead of shattering. Thanks to his foresight and the valiant efforts of Treasury Department employees who kept the fire at bay, The Old Mint was virtually unscathed and was the only San Francisco financial institution to stay open. The $200 million worth of gold in its vaults remained unharmed, and the country's economic welfare remained safe.
In January 2003, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's plan to renovate the unused Old Mint building and create a permanent home for the San Francisco Museum gained approval from the mayor's task force. Today, the society oversees its preservation, renovations, and ongoing activities; visitors can see temporary exhibits against an elegant backdrop of fluted columns, checkered floors, and vintage light fixtures. The society also educates people about Bay Area history through walking tours, monthly programs, and special events including a history expo, holiday tea, special exhibitions, and the Standing Ovations awards gala. It produces two members-only publications: “Panorama,” a quarterly newsletter, and the Argonaut, an original journal that tells the city's stories through items such as photographs, articles, and personal musings.
Although they didn't have the most glamorous job, Liberty Ships might represent America's contributions to the fighting effort in World War II better than any other craft. Between 1941 and 1945, 2,710 were manufactured at 18 American shipyards, making up the largest class of ships in the history of the world. This massive cargo fleet helped replace the British and American ships decimated by German U-boats, but today, only two remain on the water. One of those?the only that is still in historically accurate condition?is the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a floating museum moored at Fisherman's Wharf.
With the spirit of its namesake?the first American to capture a British vessel during the Revolutionary War?the O'Brien made 11 voyages during WWII: from England and Northern Ireland to South America, India, and Australia. But just because she's become a history exhibit doesn't mean she doesn't still see some action. On Steaming Weekends (usually the third Saturday and Sunday of the month), while remaining dockside, visitors can see the 2,500-horsepower engine in action, and public cruises scheduled throughout the year prove how shipshape the vessel really is. Any day of the week, guests can explore nearly the entire craft including the flying bridge to the engine room.
At first glance, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze looks more funky than befuddling. The black lights that illuminate its columns and archways cycle through neon colors, and ?80s dance music thumps through its various turns. The wonderland-like ambiance prompted SF Weekly to list the maze as "possibly the most psychedelic place one can legally reach within the city limits" in its list of Five Places We Wish Bands Could Play in SF.
Don't let the far-out vibes fool you, though. Even Charles Magowan, the maze's creator, admits to getting lost in its passageways during an ABC 7 feature. Charles constructed the maze to cover 2,000 square feet, aligning 77 mirrors in counterintuitive corners, dead-ends, twists, and halls. His ultimate goal was to build a nostalgic labyrinth that both kids and adults could explore. One ticket grants unlimited admission to the maze throughout the day, encouraging repeat visitors to memorize different escape routes and convince their reflection to go to work tomorrow instead of them.