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As San Francisco reopens amid COVID, this is what to anticipate

In March, the guests observe the exhibition “Approaching American Abstraction” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened on March 7th. A few days later, Chief Administrative Officer Noah Bartlett stood near the entrance, remembering the start of the pandemic a year ago.

“We assumed it would be six weeks,” he said. “So naive, right?”

Since then, Bartlett and key museum staff have rescheduled exhibitions, rethought budgets, and mapped “every surface people would come into contact with,” including elevator buttons now covered with self-cleaning NanoSeptic pads.

“We’d like to say that we’re one of the safest indoor experiences anyone can have. You and I can walk through this building without touching anything, ”said Bartlett.

But he also understands that recovery may be slow. The three restaurants in the museum will remain closed. The Moscone Center across the street, once one of the busiest convention venues in the country, is a vaccination center.

Prior to the pandemic, Bartlett said, up to 60% of museum goers came from outside the Bay Area, and daily admissions rarely fell below 2,000. For the reopening, the museum drew around 3,500 visitors over two days.

“The energy has changed,” said Bartlett. “We’re going to stay in a depressed state, I think, probably for a couple of years,” said Bartlett. “It really accelerated our focus on the local audience.”

A man is standing in a tunnel made of purple panes of glass.

Noah Bartlett, Head of Administration at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in the “One-Way Color Tunnel”.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

The museum will shortly be opening an exhibition entitled “Contemporary Optics” on the fifth floor. As an installer was preparing the galleries, Bartlett stepped onto the Oculus Bridge – the showcase walkway that hangs four floors above the museum lobby – and stepped into Olafur Eliasson’s “One-Way Color Tunnel”, which sparkled like purple ice.

This, said Bartlett, is a silver lining: a visitor can now “really gain the experience of the museum insider – time alone with works of art”.

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