This season, a collection of exhibits at San Francisco museums highlight the shifting landscape of design and its influence on American culture.

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March 21, 2018

San Francisco Museum Exhibitions You Need to See This Spring

This spring, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the de Young Museum are offering exhibitions that delve into the shifting landscape of design in California since the digital revolution. Meanwhile, at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, “The Art of Rube Goldberg” explores the career of this San Francisco native as a companion show, “Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists,” continues through July 29, 2018.

Take a peek under the hood to see what all the buzzing and whirring is about.

“Designed in California”
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
151 Third St.
Through May 27, 2018

This exhibition looks at designs that are human-centered and socially conscious. Works by Sha Design and D-Rev demonstrate a focus on social impact, and new household products by fuseproject and NewDealDesign foresee a world connected and improved by the Internet of Things. The designs on view in this exhibition place California at the center of an evolving and expanding field.

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"Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art"
The de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Terrace in Golden Gate Park
March 24–Aug. 12, 2018 

In this exhibition, organizers pose an interesting question: Are Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos the Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie of our era? “Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art” probes the connection between the Bay Area’s present and the Machine Age past. This large-scale exhibition surveys the American style of early 20th century Modernism. Addressing the aesthetic and intellectual concerns that fueled the development of this artistic style, the exhibition features more than 100 works by artists, including  Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Demuth; prints by photographers such as Imogen Cunningham and Paul Strand; clips from films such as Charlie Chaplin’s "Modern Times"; and extraordinary decorative arts and industrial objects from the period, including a vintage Cord Phaeton automobile.  

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“The Art of Rube Goldberg”
The Contemporary Jewish Museum 
736 Mission St.
Through July 8, 2018 

“The Art of Rube Goldberg” explores the career of San Francisco-born Rube Goldberg (1883–1970), one of the most celebrated and influential cartoonists and illustrators of all time. The exclusive exhibition brings together never-before-exhibited original drawings and preparatory sketches alongside rare photographs, films, letters and memorabilia from the Goldberg family archives. Chronicling all aspects of the artist’s 72-year career, from his earliest published drawings and iconic inventions to his political cartoons (some of which were published in the "San Francisco Chronicle"), the exhibit offers visitors an unprecedented opportunity to experience his work and marvel at his prescience.

“Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists”
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St.
Through July 29, 2018

Among the hundreds of Jewish artists who have called the Golden State home, a surprisingly significant number were inspired by the notion of the machine, especially the improvised do-it-yourself machine. In this exhibit, 16 artists of Jewish descent share a variety of works such as large-scale mechanical installations, drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography and more.

"Curious Contraptions"
The Exploratorium
Pier 15
Annual: November-January

Nicole Minor, who curates the seasonal “Curious Contraptions” exhibition at the Exploratorium, has dubbed this show “The Nutcracker for tinkerers.” Rapidly becoming a holiday favorite, these small machines spring from a reverence for complex mechanical systems made in imitation of the human form. In the Exploratorium’s most recent exhibition, nearly 30 automata representing the work of 11 artists from around the world were gathered in the South Gallery. These whimsical machines were brought to life by intricate arrangements of handmade cams, cranks and other simple mechanisms.

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If gadgets and gizmos are your thing, be sure to visit these other Bay Area museums:

Autodesk Gallery
One Market St. #200

Celebrating the future of making, the Autodesk Gallery at One Market St. shows how the tools of design and the creative process are dramatically changing, and what individuals are creating with them. Bringing together stories of pioneering design and inventive engineering from around the world, the gallery demonstrates how people are thinking differently and exploiting new technology to imagine, design, and create a better world. Open to the public every Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m., the Autodesk Gallery currently features an exhibit on the construction of the east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Popular design night events are held bimonthly.  

Bay Area Discovery Museum
557 McReynolds Rd., Sausalito

Located in Sausalito, the Bay Area Discovery Museum is designed to ignite creative thinking in children and is especially appealing to toddlers. Tiny tinkerers will discover spots like the “Fab Lab,” where they can use digital and analog tools, including a wood shop where different tools are available to shape and cut wood.

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Cable Car Barn and Powerhouse
1201 Mason St.

Constructed in 1886 at the corner of Washington and Mason streets, “The Barn” was almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Rebuilt the following year, it was completely restored in 1984 as part of a $60 million project to rehabilitate the entire cable car system. Today, the barn houses the cable winding machinery and the Cable Car Museum. From the museum on the mezzanine, visitors can watch the tension carriages, feel the motion of four giant motors and watch the huge winder wheels that turn the cables. Learn more about the history of the cable cars and hear them in action in this interview with Wes of Wild SF walking tours.

California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr. in Golden Gate Park

Nature informs a lot of design, so the California Academy of Sciences is a perfect spot to explore movement, the science of color, gravitational pull and sustainability. Be sure to wander over to The Project Lab, a multi-user, state-of-the-art lab outfitted with the equipment researchers use to prepare, process and catalog specimens for the Academy’s research collections and exhibits.  

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Children’s Creativity Museum
221 Fourth St.

Located in the heart of Yerba Buena Gardens, adjacent to the city’s primary convention facility, The Moscone Center, the Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on art and technology experience for families with children ages 2-12. Take the Mystery Box Challenge in the Innovation Lab or star in a music video. There’s also stop-motion animation video making and an opportunity to develop urban planning skills in Sketch Town.  

Musee Mecanique
Pier 45

Perched on Pier 45 in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Musee Mecanique is one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. There are more than 300 games in the museum, including a steam-powered motorcycle, the notorious Laffing Sal from San Francisco’s famous Playland-at-the-Beach, and a collection of machines made from toothpicks by inmates at San Quentin. Admission is free; most games costs 25 to 50 cents. No need to bring your own quarters; change machines are available throughout the building.  

Randall Museum
199 Museum Way

After a $9 million renovation, The Randall Museum, a one-of-a-kind art and science education center, reopened to the public in February 2018. Many a child in San Francisco has whiled away an afternoon at the Randall, puttering with wood scraps or scaling the toddler tree house. The renovation brings new features to the museum, including a state-of-the-art STEM lab, geology and zoology exhibits, and a cafe, as well as updates to the live animal exhibit, science and ceramics studios and classrooms. Admission is free. 

San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport is the first airport in the country to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. If you’ve got time before your flight departs, check out the exhibits located throughout all three terminals. Photography, sculpture and other art are loaned to the SFO Museum from other museums and private collections and run the gamut from vintage typewriters to coin-operated machines. These exhibits supplement the collection of aviation-related materials found in the Aviation Museum and Library housed at SFO, which is an architectural adaptation of the airport’s 1930 passenger lobby. 

DISCOVER MORE OF SAN FRANCISCO'S MUST-SEE MUSEUMS.

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