Penciling in the Art: Museums Reopen to Those Who Plan Ahead

Installation view of Zach Blas, “The Doors” in “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI” at the de Young museum.
By Carolyne Zinko

It’s virtuous to adhere to rules of our new virtual existence, but there are limits to the escapes we can muster in the confines of our own homes—notably the masterpieces of art in museums around the globe that have been cataloged and are free to view in two-dimensional form, on the web. But there’s nothing like seeing art in real life to marvel at the energy, detail and expression within a sculpture, oversize painting or a digital work. With shelter-in-place orders easing, several of San Francisco’s most notable institutions have worked to reopen this fall—the Fine Arts Museums, the Asian Art Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Barring any changes in orders from city health officials, here’s what will be on display—and how to plan your visit. Please note that all museums will operate at 25% capacity and visitors are required to wear masks and maintain social distance.

The de Young Museum, one of two museums under the Fine Arts Museums umbrella, opened to the public on Sept. 25 and features a special exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, through Feb. 7, 2021. The Kahlo show focuses on a trove of the Mexican artist’s personal objects that had been sealed since her death in 1954; now unsealed, this is the first West Coast viewing. The show includes some self-portraits and explores her relationship with San Francisco as well. Concurrently, Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI, an exploration of human dependence on artificial intelligence, reopens in an expanded version. The Hamon Tower observation level, de Youngsters Studio, and coat checks will remain closed. Tickets $20-$35 for children and adults; Tu-Su 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, 415.750.3600,

A sister museum, the Legion of Honor, will open in mid-October, and along with its collections features an extension through fall of the exhibition Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale, centered around 19th-century Gothic revival and San Francisco’s place in film noir history. Tickets and hours to be announced; 100 34th Ave., San Francisco, 415.750.3600,

The Asian Art Museum, which underwent a five-year, $103 million expansion that was to have been unveiled in May, is scheduled to reopen to members Oct. 1 and to the general public Oct. 3, with timed tickets required for entry. The building will reopen in phases and the Sunday at the Museum cafe is temporarily closed. Exhibitions on view include Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment, with 100 vibrant Himalayan Buddhist paintings, sculptures, and textiles, and Jean Shin | Pause, site-specific works that use old cell phones, and rocks from Chinese art as commentary on tech innovation’s effect on climate change. Admission free through Oct. 12, thereafter, free to children 12 and under, $10-$15 for ages 13 and up; Th 1-8 p.m., F-M 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tu-W closed. 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, 415.581.3500,

SFMOMA reopens to members on Oct. 1 and to the public Oct. 4, with two weeks of free community days and free parking through Oct.18. Timed tickets must be purchased in advance. Cafe 5 will offer takeout with socially distanced tables and outdoor seating in the museum’s fifth floor Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden. Among the exhibitions on display: Dawoud Bey, An American Project, through Oct. 12; David Park: A Retrospective, Oct. 4 through Jan. 18, 202, and Bay Area Walls, a new series of site-specific commissions by local contemporary artists. Free to children 18 and younger, adults $25; Th 1-8 p.m., F-M 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tu-W closed. 151 Third St., San Francisco, 415.357.4000,

Photo credits: Installation view of Zach Blas, “The Doors” in “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI” by Gary Sexton, Friday Kahlo courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. All other photos courtesy of venues.


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