History


1935 The War Memorial Veterans Building, circa 1935

On January 18, the San Francisco Museum of Art, under the leadership of founding director Grace McCann Morley, opens on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue.

A gift of 36 artworks from Albert M. Bender, including The Flower Carrier, 1935, by Diego Rivera, establishes the nucleus of the permanent collection. In a remarkable display of generosity, Bender goes on to donate more than 1,100 objects to the museum and endow its first purchase fund before his death in 1941.

1936

The museum's second year begins with an exhibition of works by Henri Matisse, primarily drawn from two local private collections. Many of the featured paintings and sculptures are later donated to the museum, forming the core of an exceptional Fauve collection.

SFMOMA becomes one of the first museums to recognize photography as a fine art by establishing, under the guidance of Curator John Humphrey, a collection of photographic works.

1940 Pablo Picasso's Guernica  in the museum in 1939

The museum makes national news when, at the closing hour on the last day of a major Picasso retrospective organized by New York's Museum of Modern Art, 1,300 visitors sit down and refuse to leave "till they had had their fill."

The museum organizes its first architecture exhibition Telesis: Space for Living, a landmark effort that prompts the city of San Francisco to establish an office of planning.

1945

50 member countries convene in the Veterans Building to establish the United Nations Charter. With its galleries commandeered for delegates and press, the museum relocates a temporary facility on Post Street from March through July.

The museum presents Jackson Pollock's first solo museum exhibition. Pollock's early masterpiece Guardians of the Secret, 1943, is added to the collection.

1946

The Art in Cinema film program is founded by Frank Stauffacher, with the first year focusing on the European avant-garde of the 1920s. The series runs until 1978.

The Women's Board establishes the Rental Gallery (now known as the Artists Gallery). The first program of its kind in the country, it expands the collecting base in the Bay Area and creates a vibrant sales venue for local artists.

1951

SFMOMA initiates a biweekly television program entitled Art in Your Life (later renamed Discovery). Embracing the new medium, Morley asserts, "We mean to try to make television serve for art and artists, for that seems the business of our kind of museum." The series of half-hour shows runs for three years.

1952

68 photographic works spanning the career of Alfred Stieglitz are acquired by purchase and through the gift of Georgia O'Keeffe.

1958

Morley steps down from her 23-year directorship and is succeeded by George D. Culler.

1963 Edward Weston, Knees, 1927

The photography collection gains great depth with the addition of the Henry Swift Collection, a group of 85 prints assembled by one of the original members of f/64. His collection includes work by fellow f/64 photographers Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston.

1964

A group of seven major paintings, including Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger (Women of Algiers), 1955, and Kees van Dongen's La Chemise noire (The Black Chemise), ca. 1905–9, are donated to the collection by Wilbur D. May.

1966

Gerald Nordland assumes directorship of the museum.

1970-72

The museum embarks on a two-year expansion when the third floor of the Veterans Building is made available for operational space. The project results in new galleries, a conservation laboratory, and other facilities.

1974

Henry T. Hopkins arrives from the Fort Worth Art Museum to take over as director after Nordland's departure in 1972.

1975 The SFMOMA Artists' Soapbox Derby, held in 1975

"Modern" is added to the museum's name to more accurately reflect its purview.

Artist Clyfford Still gives 28 monumental paintings to the museum.

In May the museum stages the Artists' Soapbox Derby, in which 75 wildly imaginative, artist-designed cars race downhill in San Francisco's McLaren Park. A second version of the event is held in 1978.

1980-87

Over a span of several years, SFMOMA formally divides its curatorial team into the four departments still in place today: Architecture and Design, Media Arts, Painting and Sculpture, and Photography.

1987

John R. Lane becomes the fifth director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

1988

The Third Street site for the museum's new facility is announced. Swiss architect Mario Botta is selected to design the new building.

1990

The Elise S. Haas Collection is bequeathed to the museum and includes Matisse's seminal work Femme au chapeau (Woman with the Hat), 1905.

1992

The Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Collection — comprising seven works related to American Pop art — becomes the first major gift of art in honor of the new building.

1994

SFMOMA's facility at 401 Van Ness Avenue closes to the public on September 5.

1995 The SFMOMA building as seen from the corner of Mission and Third Streets

SFMOMA's new building on Third Street opens to the public on January 18, the 60th anniversary of the museum.

SFMOMA becomes one of the earliest museums to launch an institutional website.

1998

On June 1, David A. Ross is appointed the sixth director of the museum, replacing John R. Lane, who departed the previous year. Ross previously served as director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952

An unprecedented year of collecting: SFMOMA acquires 14 important Robert Rauschenberg works directly from the artist with the help of funds from Phyllis Wattis. Wattis's support extends to the museum's purchase of René Magritte's signature painting Les Valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952, at auction. Other acquisitions include works by Piet Mondrian (the museum's first), Pablo Picasso, Anselm Kiefer, Brice Marden, Andy Warhol, and Louise Bourgeois, among others.

1999

The Photography Department receives over 1,000 images spanning the full history of the medium from the Prentice and Paul Sack Photographic Trust, as well as 11 rare works by American precisionist photographer Charles Sheeler.

Continuing its aggressive collections-growth strategy, SFMOMA acquires 22 Ellsworth Kelly works from the artist's personal collection.

In honor of Phyllis Wattis, Robert Rauschenberg donates his monumental work Hiccups, 1978, which consists of 97 linked transfer drawings on sheets of handmade paper. Wattis also enables the museum to acquire key pieces by Eva Hesse and Brice Marden.

2000

In December, SFMOMA becomes one of the leading repositories of the work of Sol LeWitt with a major acquisition of nine important wall drawings and structures and 26 working drawings, many of which are donated from the artist's personal collection. The group of acquired works represents all the significant periods of LeWitt's oeuvre.

2001-2

In late 2001 and early 2002, the museum receives seven major works by Frank Stella from the collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson — including the seminal Black Painting Zambezi, 1959 — establishing SFMOMA as a major repository of this important postwar artist's work. The artist responds by gifting a new work from his series The Duel to SFMOMA in honor of the Andersons.

2002

On March 13, Neal Benezra is appointed director of SFMOMA, replacing David A. Ross, who departed in August 2001. Benezra was formerly deputy director and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The museum unveils its innovative Koret Visitor Education Center, which offers both scheduled programming and drop-in access.

2005

In March the museum announces the promised gift of nearly 800 photographs to the Prentice and Paul Sack Photographic Trust at SFMOMA from the Sacks' private collection. These important pictures augment the couple's 1998 gift of nearly 1,000 works spanning the history of the medium. All of the photographs are made available for display at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

2008

The museum launches Live Art at SFMOMA, a series of public programs designed to embrace the event-driven, performance-based nature of contemporary art.

More than 400,000 visitors attend SFMOMA during the three-month presentation of Frida Kahlo, making it the most highly attended exhibition in our history.

2009

In April, SFMOMA announces plans for a major expansion that will provide an additional 100,000 square feet of gallery and public space and 40,000 square feet of support space, including larger and more advanced conservation facilities and an expanded library.

Rendering of the SFMOMA Rooftop Garden

In May, SFMOMA unveils a new Rooftop Garden designed by Jensen Architects in collaboration with Conger Moss Guillard Landscape Architecture. The project, which includes a glass pavilion and two open-air spaces, features a rotating selection of indoor and outdoor sculpture from the museum's permanent collection.

In September, Doris and Donald Fisher establish a groundbreaking relationship with SFMOMA that provides the Fisher Collection — one of the world's leading collections of modern and contemporary art — with a home at SFMOMA. The Fisher Collection includes some 1,100 works by leading artists including Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Anselm Kiefer, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol, among many others.

2010 75th Anniversary

In January, SFMOMA marks its 75th Anniversary with a year of special exhibitions and programs.

In February, SFMOMA announces more than $250 million in support from museum leadership to expand its facilities and double its endowment.

In September, SFMOMA selects the architecture firm Snøhetta to design the expansion.

2011

SFMOMA launches a multiyear Collections Campaign with 195 promised gifts from a committee of nine Bay Area collectors. Some of the artists represented include Diane Arbus, Joseph Beuys, Robert Gober, Eva Hesse, Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman, Jackson Pollock, Ed Ruscha, and David Smith.

SFMOMA unveils expansion designs that reveal innovative and audience-friendly design features, including free street-level galleries and public spaces and dedicated educational spaces throughout the museum.

2012

In November, SFMOMA announces new gifts to the ongoing Collections Campaign with more than 470 photographs from three separate collectors, adding significant new depth to the museum’s holdings in 20th-century American and Japanese photography.

2013

In June, SFMOMA launches out of its building and into the community, offering a range of off-site programs as the museum building closes for expansion.


From top:
1935: The War Memorial Veterans Building shortly after the museum opened in 1935
1940: Pablo Picasso's Guernica on view in the museum's rotunda in 1939
1963: Edward Weston, Knees, 1927; gelatin silver print; Collection SFMOMA, Albert M. Bender Collection, Bequest of Albert M. Bender; © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents
1975: The SFMOMA Artists' Soapbox Derby, held in 1975
1995: The SFMOMA building as seen from the corner of Mission and Third Streets; photo: Richard Barnes
1998: René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952; oil on canvas; Collection SFMOMA, purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © 2000 Charly Herscovici c/o A.R.S., New York
2009: Rendering of the SFMOMA Rooftop Garden; © Jensen Architects