San Francisco’s modern art cache: the Fisher Collection


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One of the most important private collections of contemporary art in the country is the Fisher Collection, put together by Doris Fisher and her late husband, Donald, founders of the casual clothing mega-chain the Gap. Housed at corporate headquarters in San Francisco, it’s a blue-chip collection that has been largely unseen except by the privileged few, such as Gap employees and their guests. The collection numbers more than 1,100 pieces of art, but it’s not just numbers that make it so remarkable.

“It’s a collection distinguished for the artists who were collected,” says Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), “and the depth with which they were collected.” This includes such art stars as Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter and Richard Serra.


For a while, the Fishers looked into building a dedicated museum in the Presidio, the park-like compound formerly occupied by the Army on the north end of San Francisco. However, residents of the tony neighborhoods nearby protested – and prevailed.

Now the happy twist to this tale. Last September, SFMOMA, which had long courted the collection, proudly announced an agreement to house it. Reports have pegged the agreement at 25 years, but when asked, Benezra said the terms of the agreement have not yet been finalized. “Let’s just say it will be very, very long term,” he added.

In June, the general public will get a chance to gaze upon some of the fabled cache. Part of the celebration of the museum’s 75th anniversary, “Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection” (June 25 to Sept. 19) will feature about 160 works to be selected by Gary Garrels, senior curator of painting and sculpture (and formerly of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles).

Already up at the museum are “The Anniversary Show” (until Jan. 16, 2011) with 400 works, mostly from SFMOMA’s own holdings, in honor of the institution’s 75th anniversary, and “The View From Here” (until June 27), a large survey of California photography.

For my Arts & Book section article on the museum’s anniversary, click here.

— Scarlet Cheng