A strange and wondrous world is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in “The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area.”
Besides being a utopian, the man many called Bucky also was a genius designer, dreamer, lecturer and seemingly endless producer of ideas.
Perhaps best known for designing the geodesic dome, Fuller (1895-1983) also created the ultralight three-wheeled Dymaxion car, decades before the quest for small cars began.
His ideas in the fields of technology, engineering and conservation continue to reverberate today, and very likely well into the future.
Multitalented, hyperactive and often difficult to understand, Fuller produced more than 30 books on a wide range of subjects, and he came up with concepts and names such as Synergetics and Spaceship Earth.
Among the exhibition’s dozens of works — including prints, drawings, photographs, documentary videos, books and models — is a wall display of words Fuller dreamed up, written on index cards.
Many local connections highlighted at SFMOMA include a phantasmagorical design for a gargantuan floating tetrahedral city in the middle of the Bay.
Among objects whose creation was influenced by Fuller are: low-cost laptops from Yves Behar and Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child initiative; North Face’s Oval Intention, the first dome-shaped tent, demonstrating Fuller’s notion of “tensegrity” or tensional integrity; David de Rothschild’s Plastiki sailboat, the recycled catamaran of 12,500 plastic water bottles that sailed from San Francisco to Australia; and Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog.
Exhibit curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher says a portfolio featuring 13 of Fuller’s most radical designs that never gained traction is at the heart of the show, along with products inspired by Fuller’s never-realized inventions.
“We’re really positioning him as this source of big, grandiose ideas, rather than a failed designer,” she says. A typical Fuller creation is the video “Everything I Know” — 42 hours of looking into the camera and delivering what Dunlop Fletcher calls “a brain purge.”
Fuller — who lectured students at Stanford University and UC Berkeley as well as prisoners in San Quentin — led a life full of dramatic changes.
In his 30s, he was an unemployed alcoholic, facing bankruptcy and considering suicide, when through sheer will he made a quantum leap into a lifelong quest “to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”
The exhibition showcases some of Fuller’s big-picture ideas, including the World Game project, which he initiated in 1965. Conceived as a data visualization system meant to facilitate global approaches in solving the world’s problems, Fuller intended the piece to “make the world work, for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
IF YOU GO
Where: S.F. Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily except closed Wednesdays; show runs through July 29
Tickets: $11 to $18
Contact: (415) 357-4170, www.sfmoma.org
Note: Sam Green’s documentary “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” premieres at 7 and 9 p.m. May 1 at the museum. Tickets are $25.