The Fisher Collection

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November 2, 2018
Photo by Pei Ketron

Why The Fisher Collection Matters

Filling a substantial portion of SFMOMA’s galleries, the modern and contemporary art amassed by American collectors Doris and Donald Fisher (of Gap, Inc. fame) is a defining part of the new museum experience. What’s all the fuss about? Here are a few fast facts on this noteworthy collection and why it’s in the spotlight.

A new industry model
In 2009, the Fisher family bucked the “build-your-own-museum” trend and made art world headlines by forging a groundbreaking, long-term loan partnership with SFMOMA to share their collection with the public for 100 years at the expanded museum. This means that after the inaugural installation for reopening, the Fishers' holdings can set cheek by jowl with SFMOMA’s own collection, creating even greater exhibition possibilities.

Passions that run deep
The Fishers began collecting art in the 1970s as young newlyweds and displayed purchases in their office building for the Gap, the fashion apparel company they founded in San Francisco in 1969. Rarely impulsive, they focused on specific artists and pursued them in incredible depth. Nearly five decades later, their museum-quality collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings and photographs has grown to include more than 1,100 works by 185 artists and is considered among the most thoughtfully assembled private art holding anywhere.

Naming names
We’re talking deep veins of top-notch work by Georg Baselitz, Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Ellsworth Kelly, William Kentridge, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. Museums worldwide looking to mount important exhibitions of work by these artists now must reckon with SFMOMA.

DIY style
Never content to simply work with an advisor or curator, the Fishers developed their own art world savvy by traveling extensively to see work in person in artists’ studios and cultivating life-long friendships with artists that supported multiple stages of their careers.

The big reveal
Eventually the Fishers built dedicated, formal exhibition galleries inside Gap headquarters for their collection, which company employees could freely enjoy; other interested parties could see it by appointment only. With the exception of a 2010 “select highlights” show at SFMOMA and another jewel-box show that traveled to two venues in Europe in the spring of 2015, this is the first time such a huge portion of the collection has been on public display.

Other fun facts
First work collected: a print series by Robert Motherwell in 1974. First painting collected: Nerts (1978) by Roy Lichtenstein in 1979. Works on view in the new SFMOMA’s opening installation: more than 260 by nearly 70 artists, spread over five floors. Among the Fishers’ personal favorite pieces: Falling Blue (1963) by Agnes Martin.


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