• at home with
    The art curator for SFMOMA gives us tour of the Mission district loft he called home for over a decade, shortly before it succumbs to a devastating fire.
    Sept 16, 2014  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    Few city dwellers ever have the opportunity to experience the ten-year evolution of a home, or the dramatic transformation of its surrounding neighborhood. Art curator Joseph Becker moved to San Francisco's Mission District over a decade ago, long before third wave coffee shops, trendy boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants ever called it home. Meanwhile, his apartment was undergoing a similar transformation. An architect by education, Joseph refashioned a massive, but bare bones warehouse space into a custom-fitted loft, fully equipped with a vaulted guest room, built-in banquette and an expansion to the downstairs unit.

    But even more fascinating than the home's architecture were its contents - easily the most abundant (albeit thoughtful) vintage collection we've seen in a single residence. Despite owning more globes or vintage cameras than we could possibly count, Joseph maintains a precise memory of when and where each item was acquired. He shares stories of hauling a 15lb rock for several miles along the Washington coastline, or stumbling upon a Greek globe that doubles as a short-wave radio during a trip to Istanbul. Each item is particularly placed within a series of vignettes, which combine to create a truly awe-inspiring experience - somewhere between a museum and a bazaar.
    Joseph has honed his already keen understanding of the relationship between people, objects and space through nearly ten years of exhibition design for SFMOMA. He started with the museum immediately after college to assist with Olafur Eliasson's retrospective - a complicated project that showcased a frozen sculpture within an 800-square-foot walk-in freezer. Since then, he's curated countless exhibitions for the museum, including a touring display for recently passed architect Lebbeus Woods.

    While Joseph remains an Assistant Curator for SFMOMA, sadly, he is no longer at the incredible home we had the pleasure of visiting this past fall. The apartment building recently suffered from a tragic fire, displacing Joseph and the rest of the building's tenants. We're terribly saddened by Joseph's loss, but hope this story contributes at least a small part to the memory of his truly remarkable home.
  • How did the career in curation come about, after having studied architecture?

    I definitely enjoyed my architecture education, but was always somewhat wary of professional practice. You see a lot of talented graduating architects who will spend years without their own voice, and I was a bit skeptical of that path. I decided to study architecture because it's a very well rounded design degree, and promotes a wide thought process that draws on history and theory beyond just the built form.

    When I graduated, there was a position open at SFMOMA to design and coordinate an exhibit for Olafur Eliasson's presentation "Your tempo." It was an icicle encrusted steel lattice covering the chassis of a BMW racecar, and you had to walk inside a giant freezer to see it. So that's how I started at the museum, and since then I've had the incredible opportunity to curate some really great exhibitions that open up the conversation about architecture and design within the context of an art museum.


    As a curator, you get to develop the concept and theme of an exhibition, but you also have to consider the execution and design of the space. My background specifically lends itself to considering the experiential, and how the design of the exhibition, both graphic and architectural, lends to another level of engaging the audience with the work.

    I really think that the design of the space and the overall experience are as important as the exhibition texts. A lot of times, people skim over the texts, but they may be drawn to how the show is presented, how the presentation resonates with the work on view, and engage in the exhibition in that way. That's part of my goal. I definitely apply my architecture training to the holistic aspect of design.


    When I moved in, it was totally empty - an almost 2000 sq ft. wide open space. We built the guest loft, the storage space, this banquette, the bedrooms. And then a few years after moving in, the guy who was renting the space downstairs space moved out, so we took over that space as well and installed a 14' tall spiral staircase we salvaged from a house in Marin. The house is in a constant slow transformation. I see it as something that will forever remain unfinished. I rent, so it's never going to be as polished as if it was completely mine.

    This whole building is a trip. It's filled with some great characters, some who've shifted over the years, and some who've been here almost 30. Like my neighbor downstairs who rescues malamutes and huskies. There's a rotating cast of these incredible dogs who howl at the sirens at night - it's pretty amazing. It's a little vestige of a wild, bohemian San Francisco that is hanging on by a thread as the waves of gentrification alter the landscape. I mean, the shit that goes on down this alley, ha!


    When I first moved here, this was still a shady part of town. Woodward Street, one block over, was still referred to as 'Blood Gulch.' Now there's hip coffee, nice boutiques, brunch lines two hours long...The neighborhood has changed pretty quickly. The Mission isn't fully gentrified, but it's happening very fast, and it comes at a cost - pushing out families and businesses that give the urban fabric it's incredible diversity.

    I love the city, but it's tough. People who have lived in San Francisco for a long time like to throw out some hate at how it's changed, and I won't deny that I'm often one of them. I don't want to be the same voice that pins blame on the Google busses and the mid-Market tax incentives - it's hard to ignore the tech-bubble's impact on the city. But it's part of the evolution of the city, and it's something you have to deal with when you live in any urban area. Not all change is bad, but it's a topic worth looking at.

  • When I moved in, it was totally empty - an almost 2000 square foot, wide open space. We built the guest loft, the storage space, this banquette, the bedrooms...


    I'm not really a collector per se, although I do have lots of things. I become fascinated with certain categories of items, like globes. That started a number of years ago when a friend of mine, who happened to live in this building, moved to New York and got rid of all of his possessions. He gave me a globe, and from there, I really just started picking them up.

    I'm probably long over-due for a yard sale though. The problem with having a garage sale here is that all the other apartments want to have one at the same time. Then, I just end up acquiring more things, haha!


    I dont think I buy anything that isn't from a flea market or sidewalk sale. But pretty much everything in here has a story.

    Like the rock on the dining table is actually something I decided was worth backpacking out of Shi Shi Beach in Washington State - about 5 miles with this 15lb rock in my backpack. Sometimes you just can't say no! I pretty much have a love affair with the Pacific Northwest.

  • I'm not really a collector per se, although I do have lots of things. I become fascinated with certain categories of items, like globes.

  • TRNK tip
    If there's an item in your home that you really love, go out and get a few more. Like Joseph's impressive assortment of globes, starting a collection creates both a hobby and a one-of-a-kind display for your home.
  • I don't think I buy anything that isn't from a flea market or sidewalk sale. But pretty much everything in here has a story.

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