Art World

SFMOMA exhibitions this fall feature culture, nature, and history

Meghann Riepenhoff’s Littoral Drift Nearshore #209. Photo: Katherine DU Tiel; courtesy SFMOMA

The SFMOMA’s fall exhibitions are noteworthy in their diversity. In addition to the ongoing major Diego Rivera’s America exhibition, the offerings include a selection from the museum’s photography collection; an installation by Swiss artist Julian Charrière highlighting the realms of environmental science and natural history; an installation by assemblage artist Amalia Mesa-Bains; and Conversation Pieces, a selection of quirky, one-of-a kind furniture.


Sightlines features more than 200 works from SFMOMA’s holdings and explores themes of studio portraiture to camera-less photography. One gallery is devoted to Louis Carlos Bernal’s vivid color photography of the Southwest from the late 1970s. 

Other galleries consider the question “What constitutes a photograph?” Man Ray’s humorous and irreverent photograms will be on view. Ray was known for his “rayographs,” created by placing objects directly on a photosensitized piece of paper and then exposing it to light. 

A large-scale cyanotype installation by Meghann Riepenhoff is also on display. Cyanotypes are created with a photographic printing method using the ultraviolet blue light spectrum, hence the bluish hue from which it is named. Littoral Drift Nearshore #209 (2015) is Riepenhoff’s abstract that approximates the awe-inspiring power of the ocean in vibrant spatterings of blue and white. 

Sightlines is on view through May 7, 2023.


This two-part exhibition is a journey into the life of the artist and introduces Mesa-Bains’s creative influences. The first autobiographical installation, Venus Envy Chapter I: The First Holy Communion Moments Before the End, formulates a linear trajectory of the artist’s life story where her personal identity was shaped by her Catholic upbringing, her first Holy Communion, and the symbolism of the church entwined with personal mementos, photos, clothing and objects both belonging to the artist and her friends. The viewer looks in as a voyeur, an interloper in the life of a female examining codes of gender via Catholic rituals and ceremonial rites of passage.

In two adjacent galleries is the second installation, Madrinas y Hermanas (Godmothers and Sisters), works from SFMOMA’s permanent collection, curated by the artist and including texts she wrote to accompany them, pays homage to “those who came before me and are an inspiration or mentors (Godmothers) and those who I have exhibited with, worked with and with whom I share a vision and purpose (Sisters).” Included are artists including Frida Kahlo, Ruth Asawa, Mildred Howard, and Hung Liu.

Venus Envy Chapter I and Madrinas y Hermanas are on display through Nov. 6, 2022.

Julian Charrière’s Towards No Earthly Pole Installation. Photo: Jens Ziehe; courtesy SFMOMA
Julian Charrière’s Towards No Earthly Pole Installation. Photo: Jens Ziehe; courtesy SFMOMA


Julian Charrière’s art is inspired by humanity’s relationship to nature. In Erratic, the artist’s fascination with the Arctic and Antarctic lead him to travel to remote and hostile regions to explore humanity’s connection to the otherworldly and inhospitable parts of the planet. The desolation of the objects and images reflect humanity’s perilous future. 

The central work in this installation is Towards No Earthly Pole (2019). Panoramic film taken at night of glaciers projected on the walls sets a haunting tone in galleries containing sculptures of boulder-like objects inspired by “erratics,” or the deposits left behind by glacial ice as it glided over wide distances. Elemental forces presented in minimalist simplicity underline the isolation of dark terrains, and the ecological change and transformation they represent.

Julian Charrière: Erratic is on display through May 14, 2023.


A bench resembling a shaggy pet, a 3-D printed tuffet made of tire remnants, and an armchair constructed from 10,000 cable ties are just some of what museumgoers will find in Conversation Pieces. More than 40 works by international designers from the 1990s to the present day create a lively atmosphere of curiosity, guaranteed to get people talking. 

“The original intention was focusing on chairs that are conversation starters, pieces within a room that you gravitate toward because they perplex you. But what happens when you fill an entire gallery with these pieces? That’s a party!” says exhibition curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, who worked with Los Angeles-based creative director and designer Alexandra Loew to create a party atmosphere in the gallery. Benches are installed to imagine mingling with the furniture, and prerecorded artist conversations are played over speakers, turning the art space into something similar to a nightclub. 

The exhibition’s impetus was to redefine so-called mundane objects in everyday life and to perhaps take a closer look and find that our own choices don’t have to be ordinary.

Conversation Pieces is on display through June 25, 2023.

SFMOMA: Mon.–Tue. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursday 1–8 p.m. & Fri.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., $25, 151 Third St., 415-357-4000,

Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at

Send to a Friend Print