Fisher Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio

don fisher, gap founderGap founder Donald Fisher’s announced intention to build a new museum in the Presidio has been widely reported. Namastenancy has posted a good summary. Apparently Mr. Fisher has a fine collection of modern and contemporary art, although it is difficult to tell at this time “whether the Fisher collection has institutional quality, like the Frick, the Barnes, the Hirshhorn, the Phillips, the Mellon (the National Gallery),” as Howard Junker asks, “or whether it will be merely a beau geste like the The Hess Collection (in Napa) or a dreadful provinciality like the di Rosa Preserve (also in Napa).”

But let’s say the collection is world class. There are still some things about this story that I find a little disturbing. First, Mr. Fisher negotiated with both SFMOMA ad the Fine Arts Museums to donate his collection to one of San Francisco’s existing museums that feature modern art. Negotiations in both instances proved fruitless. Maybe the problem was just finding an adequate space for the collection. But it doesn’t sound like that was the biggest stumbling block. Instead, it sounds like Mr. Fisher wanted to dictate curatorial content: what is displayed, when, and how. Money speaks in this town, but should it curate our art in this blatant a manner?

Second, the plans call for a 100,000 square foot museum, with more gallery space than SFMOMA. That sounds great, but the Presidio is a city treasure, and I fear this is another step in its destruction. Isn’t this too large a museum for the location that is proposed, especially considering the massive parking structure that will no doubt come with it?

But there is no effective review process for what is being done to the Presidio. (When the army pulled out, the Presidio was supposed to have become a national park. Instead, it is being given over to enterprises like George Lucas’s private business campus.) The only approval required is that of the seven-member Presidio Trust Board. Guess who was a founding member of the Presidio Trust Board?

Don Fisher (pdf link).


The image of Don Fisher is taken from an interesting article by Daniela Kirshenbaum that appeared on Fog City Journal.


8 comments

  1. I agree with the issues that you raise. I was blinded by my desire to see all this art and forgot about the potential destruction of the Presidio. I didn’t realize that there was so little control over the review process. Given that, I guess we are lucky that the whole space hasn’t been covered with luxury condos yet. I also wondered at the real reasons why the collection couldn’t be merged with SF MOMA’s; I have a lot of cynical suspicions about ego being the real reason. I image that Fisher wanted a whole wing or more for his collection and the SF MOMA didn’t want to give it so he took his crayons away. Given how loudly money talks, he must be really difficult to deal with because I doubt if there’s a museum director in the world that won’t sit up and sing pretty if there’s enough money on the table (i.e., read Hoving’s book on the Met). It’s the way of the world and sometimes we get great art, even not-so-great but important art from the historical point of view. I’d love to have some idea of the real size of his collection vs what size is available in SF’s museums. Some of his pieces might really be good but not worth further destruction of priceless public land.

  2. HA, in my opinion the Presidio should remain largely a green space, as it always used to be. The trend in national parks is to LESS development and LESS traffic; this is a plan to do the opposite.

    I think buildings in the Presidio should be small and unobtrusive. This plan calls for too large a building. It is out a scale with the Presidio (where there would be few amenities for museum visitors). The location is hard to reach by public transit, and it will bring in a great deal of traffic, which would stress not only the Presidio but the Marina, the inner Richmond, and Pacific Heights, as well as commutes over the GG Bridge.

  3. HA, I used to live in the Marina near the Presidio. I’ve walked its paths for some thirty years. I know the area we are talking about.

    I believe there is a valid concern about this proposal. Your peremptory and dismissive comments do nothing to make me feel more sanguine about it.

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