Meet the Collectors

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Neal Benezra Talks with the Fishers

SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra interviewed Doris and Donald Fisher in 2007, exploring their passion for art, their approach to collecting, and the importance of their personal relationships with artists. Below are excerpts from their conversation. Read the full interview and learn more about the Fisher Collection in the Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection exhibition catalogue, available at the MuseumStore.

Neal Benezra: As an opening question, I wondered whether there was anything that predisposed you to art in either of your families? Was art part of your lives growing up?

Doris Fisher: No, my parents had several paintings, but nothing by a well-known artist. And Don's family was not into art, either. Basically, we became interested in it at the same time. We started collecting seriously—it's hard to believe—in 1976.

Don Fisher: Gap went public in 1976, and I thought that was all I needed for the rest of my life. It certainly was enough to start collecting, as prices then were substantially lower than they are today. I have always categorized myself as a visual person. I remember things visually more than in any other way. When I finished college, I worked in the mill and cabinet and construction business. We specialized in designing and building homes along with other speculative building projects. So we worked with architects and were exposed to their design ideas. Later, when we started the Gap, it was always important to me that our stores have interesting graphics and be well designed. We started out with prints, which is a great way to begin learning about an artist's work and to start collecting. As we went to museum exhibitions and gallery shows, we began to learn more and to discover what we really liked.

Neal Benezra: Do you think your tastes have changed through the years?

Don Fisher: I will never forget walking into Documenta 8 in 1987 and seeing the work of Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz for the first time. They are still very interesting to us. I don't think our tastes have changed that much. In the last few years, we have tried to fill in works by certain artists for whom we had strong holdings but were missing important periods. We have strong late paintings by Philip Guston, for example, but we did not have a great work from the 1950s until recently: we paid a premium and got a great abstract painting at auction, The Street, from 1956.

Neal Benezra: In my opinion, you have the finest private collection of Kiefer's work.

Don Fisher: One aspect of our collecting that has been very important to us through the years has been the opportunity to develop personal relationships with some of the artists whose work we collect. Artists are very creative people, interesting thinkers, and we enjoy knowing them on a personal level, for example, Ellsworth Kelly, Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Beverly Pepper, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero.

Doris Fisher: And Magdalena Abakanowicz, who invited us to the ceremony when she received the international sculpture prize for lifetime achievement. We have a major piece of hers, Big Figures, and have a strong friendship with her. We visited Henry Moore in his country home many years ago, and we also visited Antony Gormley in his studio north of London.

Don Fisher: I want to mention Sol LeWitt, who became a good friend. We spent a fair amount of time with him. The mural that he did for our home is, I think, the best wall drawing that he made. We've spent time with Richard Long, went to Brice Marden's studio and have visited with him regularly. Doris spent a little time with Agnes Martin in her studio. We have spent considerable time with Claes Oldenburg because we commissioned him and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, to do the public sculpture Cupid's Span in the park across the street from Gap Headquarters. And, of course, there is Gerhard Richter. We know him quite well, have met his family, and have gone to his home and studio several times. As you know, we have assembled a major collection of his works.

Doris Fisher: We've come to know a lot of the artists as a result of our involvement with SFMOMA.