Experience Artist-Designed Playgrounds & Musical Magic at SFMOMA

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If your summer needs a little injection of art, head to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, pronto! SFMOMA just opened two exhibits that are totally kid-friendly and will inspire some out-of-the-box thinking from your little art-lover. Noguchi’s Playscapes offers a glimpse inside the mind of artist Isamu Noguchi and his innovative play structures. Sound is the focus of the multi-dimensional Soundtracks exhibit. Read on to learn about both!

Noguchi’s Playscapes

Taking his art out of the museum, artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) re-defined the sculptural medium through architecture, landscape and set design. Born to a Japanese father and an American mother, he grew up between the two cultures during a time when these two countries were political adversaries. This taught him to work beyond imposed categories, both social and artistic.

U.S. Pavilion Expo ’70, photo by Kevin Noble

Noguchi’s Playscapes brings scale models, sketches, designs and archival images together to give viewers a glimpse of Noguchi’s fifty-year exploration of play as an interactive means of engaging with art. Kids will wish that these scale models were the real deal as the creativity behind them goes far beyond the typical swings and slides.

Jungle Gym, photo by Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi also collaborated with choreographers like Martha Graham to design sets that were unlike any of their time. Going away from the more elaborate sets, Noguchi designed a few symbolic sculptural elements that the dancers could engage with. The exhibit displays the set pieces titled Jungle Gym, Hanging Tree and Ball. Viewers can imagine how this simplistically stunning set could bring a performance to life in a new way.


Let your ears be your guide through the Soundtracks exhibit that has truly taken over SFMOMA and the neighborhood surrounding the museum as well. Soundtracks is the museum’s first large-scale group exhibit centered on the role of sound in contemporary art. With the primary exhibit on the 7th floor, make sure you pick up a brochure that explains all that is included in the exhibit.

Moth in B-Flat, Anri Sala, photo by Stephen White

As you walk off the 7th floor elevators, your eyes are immediately drawn to the snare drum suspended from the ceiling. How do the drumsticks float and play at the same time? This magical moment sets the tone for the Soundtracks exhibit.

Kids will be drawn to the kinetic sound installation that displays low-tech wooden “instruments” playing at different times. (Note: make sure the little ones know that it is listen and watch only, no touching!). Chimes made out of keys, wooden bows and pulleys make music that you can both hear and see. With tables at eye-level for little ones, it is a great spot to begin your exploration of sound.

Photo: Katherine Du Tiel

The Soundtracks exhibit continues throughout the museum. On the second floor, one person at a time can tour the galleries accompanied by a live guitarist (Thursday–Sunday, noon–3 p.m.). You can even check out special headphones and take them outside the museum following a map to discover the sounds given off by the city’s hidden electromagnetic fields.

The Details

SFMOMA includes these and many other modern art exhibits, sculptural gardens and even the largest living wall in the U.S. Plan to spend the day exploring the art there (and don’t miss the super-rad red bathroom on the second floor). The museum has a number of different spots to grab a hot chocolate or sandwich, or bring a picnic to enjoy across the street at the Yerba Buena Gardens.

Noguchi’s Playscapes is on exhibit through November 26 and Soundtracks continues through January 1. Both exhibits are included in your general admission ticket.

151 Third St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Friday-Tuesday (closed Wednesday) and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday. Through September 4, Saturday hours are extended to 8 p.m.
Cost: $25/Adults; $22/Seniors; $19/ages 19-24; FREE for everyone under 18
Online: sfmoma.org

What’s your kid’s favorite exhibit at SFMOMA? Let us know below!

–Kate Loweth

Photos by the author except where noted.

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