On June 22, 2013 by Michelle Lepori
Tracy Emin, Pysco Slut, 1999

Tracy Emin, Pysco Slut, 1999 (small detail)

Just kidding! The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), will be under construction until January 1, 2016. So inevitably, I had to say my hellos and goodbyes during the museums final days, and my own.

Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960

Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960


Just kidding again! I am finally getting that foot surgery that will leave me “under construction” for the next three months. I needed a visual lexicon to repeat in my dreams, as I lay in bed and pop Norco. I didn’t imagine it to include the Psyco Slut quilt by Tracey Emin, but never look a gift-horse in the mouth.


I needed Mark Rothko. I have only researched this artist, heard about him in lectures and seen images online. Before I could possibly die on the operating table, I had to Mecca to the man whose paintings might cause seizures from spiritual force. “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” To witness a Rothko, is to have the sacred communicated by vibratory hues in a direct language to the soul.  Rothko articulates, “I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room.”

Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960


Is Rothko the Kanye West of colors? Is the emperor naked?  First visit would be the closest—SFMOMA—and when I get better, The Chapel of Rothko in Texas. As Rothko says,  “A painting is not about an experience. It is an experience.” Honestly, I want to believe; to sob from the power of image (or dry heave later).


Like Les Jours Gigantesque did to me once at LACMA during the candy-coated Rene Magritte exhibit. I remember walking along primary blue carpets with little umbrellas, apples and cloud imagery everywhere and feeling a bit like an Umpa Loompa, with hat and cane. I turned a corner and unexpectedly that painting smacked me in the face—figuratively. I stood, rather melted, into the floor as an imaginary waterfall poured on my head. I cried in public. The curator had placed it next The Lovers, Black Magic and nearby Le Viol. The combo was a Million Dollar Baby: a sucker punch knockout.


Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 57

Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 57. 1957-60 (small detail)

But during the last days of SFMOMA, my experience was different.  Nothing floored me in an emotionally devastated way; rather I was continuously in a state of inspiration and encouragement. The underlying theme was humorous, accessible and surprising. It was all quite talkative, without words, to say the least. I approached Rothko with trepidation only to be blown away by the neighboring artworks of Ellsworth Kelly. I was not let down by Rothko rather he led me on to arbitrary expression; with Robert Bladen, Clyfford Still and Robert Motherwell. Each artist carried on the conversation.

Jenny Saville, Hem

Jenny Saville, Hem, 1999

With a nod to greatness by proximity, it was my delight that Jenny Saville displayed next to Damien Hirst, the most expensive living artist of our time. I had “discovered” her on the internet and had no clue she was that big. I thought of her work as my little secret, discovered independently.


Internet art connoisseur as I am, seeing Jenny Saville IRL is breathtaking. Her obese, naked people are sick, edgy, morbid and beautiful. Though online viewing gives nothing away to their actual size. In person, “Hem” is twice my height. At ten feet tall, brushstrokes are so broad and seemingly continuous, imaginations boggle at the mechanics of working such large scale.


Damien Hirst, Philip (The Twelve Disciples), 1994

Damien Hirst, Philip (The Twelve Disciples), 1994

Placing a physically great painting next to “the great” Damien Hirst was one of many humorous curatorial choices. Furthering the conceptual funny bone, the pies de resistance was The Clock by Christian Marclay. This private installation features a visual montage that collectively forms a real time clock. The video was shown in a room so small, a line formed to get in. The wait time to see it? Two hours. All those people, waiting to watch time go by. Ha.


Lines form to see, The Clock by Christian Marclay, 2010

Lines form to see: Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010


Conceptual buttons pushed further with a Garry Winogrand retrospective. No photography, of the photography. This is an exhibit from the man whose photographic style catches people off guard, on the street and minus model release forms. His essence is mid 20th century America. In suit, I whipped out my smart phone and took a secret photo of The Metropolitan Opera.


“The photograph should be more interesting or more beautiful than what was photographed.” 

Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, NY, 1951

Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, NY, 1951

-Garry Winogrand.


I hope to have made him proud in some way. In my mind, I made his photo more interesting by the context of appropriation using a cellphone camera in a gallery that half allows their use and half denies. I believe this to have created a transformative narrative which complies with the current issues of “Fair Use.” I call it more modern art. Like the choices of artwork at SFMOMA, I hope my stolen camera phone snap shot carries on the dialogue facing our current culture. Or I could just be taking too many pain meds.


We see what we want, and I did. Most of all I listened: to the artists, the choices of work, positioning, etc. There is so much to say about the last exhibit at SFMOMA before closure. I tried to cover it, but most all I like how this dialogue doesn’t wrap itself up neatly in a small short essay; it continuous on past the words on this page. I am different and influenced by it and will be for a long time. This was one hell of an exit speech. All before the makeover? Damn. Can’t wait to walk and talk again with SFMOMA.

Gu Wenda, United nations — Babel of the Millennium

Gu Wenda, United nations — Babel of the Millennium, 1999


One Response to “R.I.P. SFMOMA”

  • RARW, I really enjoyed reading this heartfelt, witty article by Michelle Lepori. Big kudos go to the author for a deft take on things.

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