The newly opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is currently showcasing 72 pieces of the 1,200 works owned by avid collectors Doris and Donald Fisher. The Fishers have been collecting art since 1974 (not long after they started their Gap clothing empire in 1969). A story on one of the walls at SFMOMA reveals how the Fishers were so eager to buy a work by the young Georg Baselitz, that while on a road trip, they stopped to use a phone booth at a local gas station to make sure they could seal the deal on a drawing they really liked. Here is an interview with Donald Fisher where he talks about how his passion for art collecting: On Collecting Art.
The Fishers were among the first Americans to start collecting contemporary European artists such as Baselitz, Anselm Keifer, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke to name a few. I was very delighted to see the bird painting (The Falcon, 1971, above) by Baselitz. I was familiar with his iconic neo-expressionist upside down figures, but this was my first encounter with one of his bird paintings. I love the finished/unfinished look of this piece. It has a strong sense of abstract energy while at the same time revealing the complexities of how we perceive the natural world.
The Fisher collection includes areas devoted to single artists including Americans such as Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, and Sol Lewitt. The work is displayed with several works of each artist grouped together, giving the viewer the opportunity to get a particular feeling for each artist and their work. Often when works from a collection are on display in a museum, you get one or two samples of individual artists. The Fishers really focused on collecting several works by each of the artists that they admired and the curators made an excellent attempt to get this across in the installation of the work.
Other items of note in the museum is a very large collection of Ellsworth Kelly’s work (SFMOMA has the largest collection of his work every acquired by a museum). These works were acquired by a program called The Artist Initiative. This fascinating short video reveals the decisions made in terms of installing Ellsworth Kelly’s work in four rooms of the museum: Installing Ellsworth Kelly. It was wonderful to wander through these rooms and take in the breadth of Kelly’s innovative work.
Other surprises in new SFMOMA included a great blue and white Sol Lewit wall drawing in the foyer called Loopy Doopy; a wall installation by Mark Bradford; a 20-foot high robust living wall in the outdoor sculpture courtyard, and a site-speciic installation by Dutch artist Claudy Jongstra. Jongstra’s work was designed to respond to and contrast with, the solid materials and structure of the building itself. You can see the work being installed in this video. I was pleased to see that while the museum contains a strong collection of 20th century art, they also considered to include the work of contemporary 21st century artists.
The building is so filled with amazing art that it is hard to focus on the actual architecture of the space. It is a very unique building designed to reference both fog and waves; and some say it also looks like the hull of a ship giving a nod to San Francisco’s status as a port city. It is unusual for an architecture firm to go for such a literal approach to a design, so it really does stand out as a completely original building. Some excellent views of the building can be seen on de zeen Magazine’s webiste. And of course such an unusual approach to the design concept is bound to attract dissenting views. Christoper Hawthrone in the LA Times explains his criticism here: SFMOMA’s expansion tries mightily but ultimately rings a bit hollow and Jay Harman in a blog called SFist has compiled other critiques of the building: Early Reactions To New SFMOMA Building Very Mixed
This blog gives an excellent overview of both the artworks and the building: Susan Adamé Art. So for your next mini-vacation you might consider taking one of those direct flights from Victoria to San Francisco and spending a day or two visiting the new SFMOMA. The museum easily merits a full day of attention, and two full days would be even better to give full justice to the seven stories and 170,000 square feet of exhibition space.