San Francisco has not had a lot to celebrate this month: our police chief resigned in response to several shocking cases of citizens being killed by police officers, our beaches continue to be threatened by climate change, and our long drought was not ended by El Nino rains as many of us had hoped. But there is one event that locals and tourists alike are celebrating and that is the reopening of the newly renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). It is a joy to visit the large, airy galleries and to see the paintings, sculptures, and photographs on exhibit. People are flocking there by the busload from California and beyond.
One of the most striking areas on view is the “living wall” of green plants that extends along an open balcony on the third floor. An amazing variety of green plants stretches up along the wall, the color scheme broken by small outbursts of colorful flowers that can be spotted by sharp-eyed visitors. Yesterday when I visited the museum, there were so many pictures being taken of people standing in front of the wall that I could almost see the flight of photos escaping from smart phones and winging their way across the country. (Fortunately no selfie sticks are allowed.)
The juxtaposition of stark modern sculptures against the intricate green foliage of the plants is irresistible. Here is an amazing video of how the wall was designed and constructed. Like so many beautiful things in this world, the apparent naturalness of the plants was carefully planned. Each plant is nurtured by a complex watering system designed by skilled engineers to keep the plants flourishing and conserve the precious water.
I have always associated gardens with quiet, pastel landscapes but the brilliant colors of modern sculpture and the glimpses of skyscrapers in the streets beyond add to the refreshing natural landscape of the wall. It is as though the museum is paying tribute to the generations of gardeners who have kept the love of plants alive in even the most urban setting as well as to the innovators who have built startling new forms for viewers to contemplate.
The patron saint of gardens and flowers is St. Dorothy, an early Christian martyr who lived during the 4th century. Although she has been dropped from the canon of saints because
of the scarcity of evidence about her life, she is still remembered in some places where trees are blessed on her feast day, February 6. It is nice to think that a tradition as old as gardening, which has existed in almost every society for thousands of years, is still being honored in this most modern of buildings and that it can co-exist so happily with art that is being created in the 21st century.