SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A couple of San Francisco’s premier art museums reopened Sunday morning with a gift for the public: free admission and a chance to experience a bit of normal life again. And, at this point, even the art itself is being influenced by the pandemic.

“Oh my gosh, this is such a treat. This is the first time my kids have been indoor anywhere since the pandemic started,” said Wendy Armstrong.

She and her two children were among those who welcomed art back to the city as the S.F. Museum of Modern Art opened its doors to the public for the first time since the post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge.

“To be without the museums and the performing arts has really hampered San Francisco’s ability to come back to life the way we all want it to,” said SFMoMA director Neal Benezra.

He said it has been difficult but, even while closed, the museum has supported art by commissioning pieces that reflect the common struggles of our times.

In a display entitled, “Close To Home: Creativity In Crisis,” one artist painted a new watercolor each day, including images of funerals, protesters and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Another painted pictures of flowers to send to the gravely ill.

But it hasn’t all been darkness. The museum opened its empty galleries to the San Francisco Ballet to create a stunning new video presentation called “Colorforms.” Taken together, the museum has become a place where people can reflect on their own experiences over the past year.

“It’s extremely moving, sort of unsettling,” said visitor Jafi Lipson. “It’s, like, heavy — the extent to which you can directly connect to the art.”

Over at the Civic Center, the Asian Art Museum also offered free admission Sunday. They have a mix of old and new, including a towering overhead sculpture entitled “I look for the sky” by artist Zheng Chongbin.

Viewing the museum’s ancient art should give visitors a sense of connection to the human experience, regardless of time, according to museum director and CEO, Jay Xu.

“You know, the art really transcends all boundaries,” he said. “Not only for our mental health but to really bring together the community to have a sense that we’re all in this together.”

We are living through something extraordinary and it is the purpose of art, whether ancient or contemporary, to help us understand what it’s all supposed to mean.

“For me, it’s really important because it’s one of the reasons I like to live here. I go to the opera, go to the museums, so I’m glad they’re still here and they’re open now,” said Asian Art Museum visitor Ellen Chang. “The vaccine’s out, hopefully we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Both museums have reopened with limited capacity and social distancing protocols. They welcome visitors but recommend visiting their websites first for more information.


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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Visitor ToolKit