Don't Be Shy, Don't Hold Back: The Logan Collection at SFMOMA
By Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture
Essay from the exhibition brochure (PDF) for Don't Be Shy, Don't Hold Back: The Logan Collection at SFMOMA.
Fifteen years ago collectors Vicki and Kent Logan gave 250 contemporary works of art — paintings, sculptures, and drawings — to SFMOMA, followed by an additional eighty pieces over the next two years. At 330 artworks SFMOMA's Logan Collection is among the largest groupings of works to be given to this museum by a single donor and remains one of the most transformative gifts in our history. The Logan gift featured iconic paintings by some of the most influential artists of our time — including Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol — adding depth to our collection and strengthening our holdings of the work of these key figures. Significantly, since they began collecting in 1993 the Logans have been strong advocates for young, emerging artists from across the globe, and their gift included works by many artists who were expanding and pushing the boundaries of contemporary art through their use of unexpected techniques and materials and their engagement with controversial social and cultural issues. Several of the featured artists — such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marlene Dumas, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami — are now recognized as icons of a groundbreaking new generation. Prior to the Logan gift, however, these artists had been completely absent from SFMOMA's collection or were at best represented by single examples of their work. Don't Be Shy, Don't Hold Back acknowledges the Logans' extraordinary generosity and reflects on their adventurous championing of the contemporary, which pushed this museum's collection and exhibition program in bold new directions.
|Gu Wenda, united nations — babel of the millennium (installation view), 1999; hair, glue, and rope; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Vicki and Kent Logan; © Gu Wenda; photo: Ben Blackwell|
The Logans are guided in their collecting by a belief that the best contemporary art reflects the culture of its era and has the potential to provide valuable insight into the issues facing individuals and communities around the world. They are unequivocal in their willingness to engage with works that bring to light uncomfortable or challenging subjects — including collective and personal psychological tensions, as well as broader cultural conflicts — that might be easier to avoid than to embrace. It has always been their hope that the art they collected would bring important and provocative issues to public consciousness and spark discussion. Over the years they have consistently sought out work that is vigorous and vital, by artists whose integrity and intensity have brought new perspectives to bear on conventional assumptions about the art and culture of our time. From the outset they have proceeded with the idea that their collection should be made widely available, and in addition to their long-standing relationship with SFMOMA they have maintained close relationships with such art institutions as the Denver Art Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum in the hopes of securing for their works the widest possible platform for critical appraisal and discourse. They recognize that, over time, shifting values and reconsiderations of history will lead to new perspectives that will reshape popular understanding and appreciation of these works, and they welcome such recalibration. For the Logans, placing the art they collect in museums has offered a means of activating a richer and more complex set of interpretive possibilities, guaranteeing that over time their pieces continue to be shown, studied, and considered in new and different contexts.
|Thomas Schütte, Große Geister (Figur Nr. 12) (Great Spirits [Figure No. 12]), 1998; aluminum; Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, fractional and promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; © 2012 Thomas Schütte; photo: Ben Blackwell|
Since the initial Logan gift to SFMOMA in 1997 the Logan Collection has profoundly shaped the presentation of contemporary art — and the art of the 1990s, in particular — in the Bay Area. Numerous exhibitions that have focused exclusively on works from the collection have been organized by SFMOMA and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, another institution to which the Logans have been important benefactors. The inclusion of innumerable Logan works — including full and fractional and promised gifts — in presentations of SFMOMA's collection has had an equally strong impact, enabling the museum to undertake a more complex and expansive consideration of both modern and contemporary art than would otherwise have been possible. The entire SFMOMA community is enormously grateful to the Logans for their unparalleled generosity, and on the anniversary of their gift to this museum we are pleased to present an exhibition that offers the public an opportunity to join us in celebrating the magnanimous and forward-looking spirit in which it was made.
Don't Be Shy, Don't Hold Back encompasses the three final galleries in the presentation of the museum's historical collections of painting and sculpture. The exhibition includes thirty-eight gifts the Logans have made to SFMOMA since 1997. This selection is intended to represent highlights from the Logan Collection and to illuminate three of its particular areas of strength. Although the Logans have focused on collecting art at the time it was made, with particular emphasis on works by young and emerging artists, they have also recognized the importance of anchoring the collection with works by some of the key artists who paved the way for the next generation. The first gallery features figures from the 1960s whose art established a foundation for the more contemporary pieces to come. The second gallery focuses on artists who emerged in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, while the third gallery features artists who were working internationally in that period. The show extends beyond the exhibition galleries with the presentation of four additional works in other areas of the museum.
|Damien Hirst, Philip (The Twelve Disciples), 1994; steel, glass, formaldehyde solution, and bull's head; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Vicki and Kent Logan; © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved / DACS, London / ARS, New York; photo: Stephen White|
On view in the museum's Haas Atrium is united nations — babel of the millennium (1999), an installation by Chinese artist Gu Wenda. This site-specific work was commissioned by SFMOMA with the support of the Logans for Inside Out: New Chinese Art, an exhibition co-organized by SFMOMA and the Asia Society, New York, that opened here in 1999. This presentation marks the first time the work has been reinstalled since that exhibition. It is composed of human hair that was gathered by the artist from across the globe and woven into panels with rope and glue. Each panel is covered with inscriptions that seem to resemble written Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, or English yet are in fact composed of meaningless symbols Gu invented. The work embodies many of the issues that propelled the Logans to build their collection as they did. At the end of the twentieth-century, when it was created, we were already living in a truly global, endlessly interconnected world. The open and porous nature of communication in this new landscape facilitated monumental achievements, but many people soon recognized that these developments might also lead to miscommunications and contribute to the fragility and vulnerability of interpersonal relationships. Although the potential for dialogue and exchange was enormous, it might just as easily lead us to end up talking past each other, creating a cacophony of cultures and languages and miring us in a web of misunderstandings.
|Andy Warhol, Double Jackie, 1964; silkscreen ink on canvas; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Vicki and Kent Logan; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ian Reeves|
Directly across from the staircase on the second-floor landing is another work from 1999, the monumental painting Super Nova by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Murakami was inspired not only by Pop art from the United States and Europe but also by Japanese animation and comics. While at first glance the cartoonish mushroom forest appears to be a playful fantasy, a sinister undercurrent soon emerges. The mushroom motif takes on particularly dark undertones if considered in the context of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The title Super Nova alludes to a 1995 song by the British band Oasis called "Champagne Supernova," a nod to drug culture and altered states of mind that lends hallucinogenic connotations to the work's fanciful imagery. Nearby, in front of the wall announcing the beginning of the museum's presentation of highlights from the painting and sculpture collection, stands a pair of figurative sculptures — Große Geister (Figur Nr. 11) and Große Geister (Figur Nr. 12) (Great Spirits [Figures No. 11 and 12]), both from 1996 — by German artist Thomas Schütte. At more than eight feet tall, these giants are larger than life, appearing fluid but paralyzed, ominous but vulnerable, and evoking a science fiction future that cannot escape the existential conditions of humanity.
|Francesco Clemente, Mother, Lover, Daughter, 1982; oil on linen; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Vicki and Kent Logan; © Francesco Clemente; photo: Ian Reeves|
The first gallery of the exhibition includes a selection of important works by figures who are widely considered to be among the most iconic and influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century. One of the first purchases the Logans made when they decided to seriously build their collection was Double Jackie (1964), an early painting by Andy Warhol that depicts First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's assassination. This Pop art masterpiece memorializes an early instance of glaring media attention on a public figure engaged in the private act of mourning. When American Pop art exploded onto the international art scene in the 1960s, its influence was immediately felt in West Germany, a region then undergoing massive social, economic, and political transformations. Gerhard Richter was one of the foremost German artists to embrace this new movement. Many of his paintings from the mid-1960s are based on images taken from a wide range of photographic materials; in Reisebüro (Travel Agency, 1966), his source was a large advertisement. The image captures a society in flux, reflecting the newly vibrant economy as well as the rise in leisure activities and travel among middle-class Germans, pursuits that demonstrated a desire to suppress memories of World War II. Pop art's sway was also felt in England in those years, notably in the work of Gilbert & George, a collaborative team of British artists who began to gain recognition in the early 1970s for their photo-based collages. These compositions combined images and texts, and often incorporated portraits of the duo. In SUCK (1977) they juxtapose an epithet from found graffiti ― a sign of the anger and despair of London's urban underbelly ― with sanitized images of the civil society projected by political leaders and tourism promotions.
The second gallery features a selection of works from the Logan Collection by artists who emerged in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s and who often explored subjects and issues that inform individual identity — the body, gender, sexuality, and cultural roots. In Francesco Clemente's painting Mother, Lover, Daughter (1982), multiple, shifting identities are held simultaneously, each one proving unstable and dissolving in the melting glare of self-scrutiny. Jean-Michel Basquiat began as a graffiti artist but fused the immediacy of street art with pensive yet staccato reflections on black identity, as seen here in Untitled (Venus/The Great Circle) (1983). Glenn Ligon's White #13 (1994) is one of a group of paintings in which the artist incorporates text from an essay by British film theorist Richard Dyer on the pervasive and therefore normative representation of whiteness and white bodies in Western visual culture. Ligon has obliterated Dyer's words with smudges of oilstick, creating a richly beautiful, saturated surface of blackness. Felix Gonzalez-Torres's haunting sculpture "Untitled" (America #1) (1992), made from a string of lightbulbs shortly after the death of his lover from AIDS, counters the disillusionment and sadness that pervaded the gay community in those years with a message of hope and possibility.
|Yinka Shonibare, Gay Victorians, 1999; wax-printed cotton textile; Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, fractional and promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; © 2012 Yinka Shonibare MBE|
The third gallery expands this focus on art of the 1980s and 1990s with a variety of works by international artists who gained recognition in that period. The Logans acquired many examples by the group that came to be known as the YBAs (Young British Artists). Here they are epitomized by Damien Hirst, who is represented by three exemplary works that pair provocative materials with cheeky titles. Philip (The Twelve Disciples) (1994) includes a bull's head suspended in a solution of formaldehyde, referencing timeless themes such as faith and belief, mortality, and decay and corruption. Other works on view reflect contemporary English culture's fusion of British traditions and those of newcomers from the United Kingdom's colonies. In Gay Victorians (1999), Yinka Shonibare, an artist raised in Africa and England, presents two costumed figures in proper Victorian dress. Their colorful apparel, although fashioned from wax-printed cotton batik in vibrant patterns associated with traditional African textiles, is made from fabric produced in British factories for the West African market, a fact that underscores the rupture between our initial impressions of these seemingly traditional garments and the cultural traditions they in fact represent. The Logans also have looked beyond Europe to become leaders in collecting contemporary Asian art, especially from China. With the loosening of the strictures of Communist rule in that country, Chinese artists have been much freer in the last few decades to make their own decisions about the styles and subjects of their work. With these freedoms, however, also come uneasiness, anxiety, and loss of tradition, as well as edgy excitement about new possibilities for expression and self-definition. Such tensions are clearly seen here in Liu Wei's Two Drunk Painters (1990) and Fang Lijun's Series 1, No. 3 (1990-91), celebrated paintings by two of the most noted figures to emerge in the vanguard group credited with the reinvention of contemporary Chinese art.
The handful of pieces described above and the wider selection included in Don't Be Shy, Don't Hold Back represent just a small fraction of the exceptional group of artworks given by the Logans to SFMOMA. Yet this presentation leaves no doubt of the diversity, depth, and impact of the contemporary works their gift brought to this museum. Which works and which artists will eventually prove to hold the most lasting art historical significance has yet to be determined, but already a number of pieces in the Logan Collection at SFMOMA appear to be taking on the mantle of masterpiece. Passionate and fearless, deeply committed but open to risk, reflective but constantly curious, the Logans created a collection that has assumed a stature and importance they neither predicted nor sought. SFMOMA is extremely fortunate to have been their partner for so many years in staying on the cutting edge of contemporary art.