SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra Steps Down, and Other News

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SFMOMA. Photography by Iwan Baan

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SFMOMA director Neal Benezra, who grew the institution considerably over the past two decades, is stepping down. 

After nearly two decades, Neal Benezra will step down as director of SFMOMA. According to Benezra, “19 years is a long time, and the time feels right to begin our succession planning,” he told the New York Times. Though his decision comes at a challenging time for the museum, which has been closed for the majority of the past year and faced a recent reckoning with structural inequities around race, Benezra ushered in a multitude of successes at the 86-year-old institution. During his tenure, he amassed a collection of more than 50,000 objects painting, sculpture, design, and photography, and media; shepherded the museum’s 2016 expansion designed by Snøhetta; commissioned site-specific works, such as Julie Mehretu’s monumental work in the building’s atrium; and negotiated the donation of more than 1,000 works from the Fisher Collection. 

Benezra will help the museum search for a successor, whom he describes should be “empathic, passionate, inclusive, and brave.” He adds: “It’s fundamentally important that our next director be a person who’s passionate about modern and particularly contemporary art. In addition to management, entrepreneurial, fundraising skills, and an ongoing commitment to our D.E.I [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] initiative, it’s critically important to have a director who’s tech savvy.” In the meantime, Benezra will oversee a Nam June Paik retrospective and move a Diego Rivera mural from the City College of San Francisco to the museum. 

Gansevoort Peninsula by James Corner Field Operations in New York

Plans for New York’s first public beach along the Hudson are moving along swimmingly.

Two years ago, the Hudson River Park Trust announced plans to build a five-acre public park and beach near the Whitney Museum in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. James Corner Field Operations landed the commission to design the $70 million park, now called Gansevoort Peninsula, which will start construction this spring. “Gansevoort Peninsula will be a spectacular public space for all New Yorkers, whether they’re enjoying Manhattan’s first public beach, playing on the ballfields, or looking out in the salt marsh,” Madelyn Wils, president and CEO of Hudson River Park Trust, said in a statement. When construction wraps up, in 2023, the riverfront park will feature a sandy beach with kayak access, a large soccer field, salt marsh, and a dog run, as well as what the Trust is billing the largest piece of uninterrupted green space along Hudson River Park’s four-mile-long expanse. Fear not: swimming won’t be permitted.

Maya Lin will create a ghostly forest in New York’s Madison Square Park this spring.

After being delayed by one year due to the pandemic, a ghostly forest by Maya Lin will rise in Madison Square Park this spring. The artist and environmental activist will create a forest of roughly 40 desiccated white cedar trees in the park’s oval lawn to create an ominous landscape that visualizes the perils of climate change. To accompany the installation, Lin also developed a soundscape that will feature calls of endangered and extinct species once native to New York City. The work nods to the New Jersey Pine Barrens—where Lin sourced the trees—that increasingly plays host to “ghost forests” that line the waterways due to saltwater infiltration caused by rising sea levels. Though patches of dead vegetation will likely recover over time, scientists believe that site will never fully recover from climate change. When the installation opens, on May 10, the nearby museum Fotografiska will host an exhibition of photographs and other materials from Lin’s creative process. 

A permanent mural dedicated to George Floyd in Houston

A permanent mural has been dedicated to George Floyd in his hometown of Houston.

Houston has dedicated a permanent mural to George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who died at the hands of Minnesota police officers this past May. Mayor Sylvester Turner has dedicated the artwork as an abiding memory that his tragic death “was not in vain.” The colorful mural was placed in front of Jake Yates Highschool, Floyd’s alma mater. At two blocks in length, the work features the words spelled out “Black Lives Matter” and the image of the red and gold number 88 jersey Floyd wore as a prolific player on the high school football team. “This means a lot to my family and I know it would mean a lot to my uncle,” said Floyd’s niece, Bianca Williams. “Continue to stand with us. This is the beginning of a long fight, united together stronger than ever.” 

A Kenyan materials engineer turns plastic waste into bricks stronger than concrete.  

Nairobi-based Gjenge Makers has created a brick made from recycled plastic waste that is stronger than concrete. “Our product is almost five to seven times stronger,” says founder Nzambi Matee, who mixes plastic waste with sand, heats it up, then compresses it into bricks that sell for around $1.40 per square foot. “There is that waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get.” The materials engineer says her factory has recycled over 44,000 pounds of plastic waste since its founding in 2017 and plans to triple capacity by the end of the year. 

Amex’s new Centurion “Art Card”

Rem Koolhaas has designed the Amex Centurion “Art Card” inspired by Boompjes.

Rotterdam has been home to the OMA for more than four decades; it’s also the birthplace of founder Rem Koolhas. It wasn’t until the 1980s that he spent much time there, following an international trajectory with his practice split between New York and London when he landed his first dream project: Boompjes (“little trees” in Dutch), a project of housing and workspaces along Maasboulevard. After the port city was devastated from both sides in the aftermath of World War II, Koolhaas—like other architects and city planners—saw an opportunity to rebuild the city, and, for that reason alone, chose it as his home base in 1980. “It made the city very fertile ground for architecture. I had more affinity and interest in Rotterdam. I started an office there almost on a hunch,” says Koolhaas. The rest was history, the OMA headquarters was next door to Boompjes and the waterfront in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Meanwhile, the artwork for the original design of Boompjes, created in 1982, is a silk-screen rendering by Koolhaas and Italian architect Stefano de Martino. The work that can still be found in the practice’s archives, kept for its genius formal considerations and vision for a long and narrow site that explored new models for housing development and future of living. Now, Boompjes is being honored for its visionary thinking by American Express as a new design for the exclusive Centurion Card. Koolhas and OMA adapted the original artwork with the card’s signature Roman references and affixed them to the wallet-sized specifications. Walking the line between graphic design and architectural ingenuity, the card launches this month. 

Pandemic-battered hotels are turning empty suites into makeshift private dining rooms. 

With low occupancy rates and disparate, constantly changing indoor dining restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, some hotels have started turning empty suites into makeshift private dining rooms. From Boston’s Eliot Hotel to Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel to the Crossroads Hotel in Kansas City, the concepts differ but showcase the industry’s ingenuity (and stringent safety standards). “It seemed like a crazy idea in April, but as the year progressed, we revisited the idea and then followed through on it,” says Aidan O’Neal, chef at the Wythe’s Le Crocodile restaurant. It seems to be a hit with at least some of the patrons. You feel like you’re the only person in the restaurant. If the pandemic were to be over tomorrow, and Uni had the opportunity to keep the suite dining, even for a surplus charge I would probably still do it,” Harvard cardiologist Hector Tamez says of the restaurant at the Eliot.  

Seiryu-Miharashi station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, Japan

Today’s attractive distractions:

This completely isolated Japanese train station has no entrance or exit. 

A millionaire is forced to demolish his illegal $70 million French chateau.

North West, the daughter of Kanye and Kim, might be the next Bob Ross.

Generic grocery brands have evolved from budget-minded to sans-serif chic.

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