Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), recently announced the Museum’s acquisition of a major collection of photographs and photography-based work from SFMOMA Trustee Carla Emil and her husband Rich Silverstein, co-founder of the advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The fractional and promised gift includes more than 100 photographs by 45 artists including Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget, Sophie Calle, Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Cornell, Rineke Dijkstra , William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Nan Goldin, John Gutmann, Germaine Krull, Helen Levitt, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Yasumasa Morimura, Irving Penn, Cindy Sherman, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems and Edward Weston, to name a few. With iconic and powerful images by some of the most revered names in photography, this is a gift of substantial art historical importance that adds significantly to the breadth and depth of the SFMOMA collection.
Benezra commented, “Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein have had a long and involved history with SFMOMA and this acquisition joins 36 works already given to the Museum by these patrons. This new gift greatly enhances our photography holdings and furthers the collection as an extraordinary resource for the photography community, the art world and the general public at large. We are extremely grateful for the generosity and vision of these collectors.”
The gift augments major groupings by artists such as Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Irving Penn, Man Ray and Cindy Sherman already in the SFMOMA collection, enabling the Museum to spotlight these important photographers and make their works accessible to local, national and international audiences.
Sandra S. Phillips, SFMOMA senior curator of photography, stated, “The extensive collection gifted by Carla and Rich adds significantly to our holdings here at the Museum. It is a remarkably consistent and personal group of pictures with a strong psychological component, all of very high quality. We are thrilled.”
Phillips continued, “The gift reaches from the 19th century to the present and makes compelling links between such figures as Lewis Carroll, Claude Cahun, and Cindy Sherman, for instance, or Julia Margaret Cameron and Paul Strand. The collection includes photographs by famous modern figures such as Stieglitz and Strand as well as dynamic recent works by artists such as Yasumasa Morimura, Louise Lawler and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Many pictures are very rare and precious, and taken as a whole, the collection is particularly compelling. Together, the pictures present an impressive worldview; they show us the value of looking at and trying to understand other people, of trying to understand humanity. Carla is deeply appreciative of the interested, unsentimental and ultimately humane eye of Diane Arbus, which has informed her own sensitive curiosity about pictures of people.”
Emil added, “For us, this gift represents our continued commitment to SFMOMA, an institution that we’ve been involved with for many years. Art has always been tremendously important in our lives and we’ve decided to make this gift, now, at a time when our world feels particularly fragile. We believe that art, in its purest sense, has the ability to take us away from our troubles, that looking at and being with art can be a transcendent experience. It feels like the appropriate time to share these pictures with others.”
The gift includes 12 important works by Diane Arbus including Identical Twins, Rosell, N.J. 1967; Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962; Transvestite with a torn stocking, NYC, 1967; Christmas tree in a living room, Levittown Long Island, NY 1962; and Untitled (self-portrait), 1944, among others. Many of these works will be included in the exhibition Diane Arbus Revelations, on view at SFMOMA from October 25, 2003, through February 8, 2004. This major retrospective features more than 200 Arbus photographs and is the most complete presentation ever of her work.
Emil’s interest in photography began in 1992 when she first saw SFMOMA’s exhibition Helen Levitt; she acquired her first photograph shortly thereafter. She has been a member of the SFMOMA Board of Trustees since 1999, and most recently she was chair of the Photography Accessions Committee. Several of the works from the gift will be on view next spring in SFMOMA’s ongoing exhibition Picturing Modernity, and the Museum is planning a major exhibition of the collection in the future.
SFMOMA is distinguished as one of the first museums in the United States to recognize the importance of photography as an art form. Beginning with its founding in 1935, SFMOMA’s commitment to building a photography collection of national stature was matched by few art museums in this country. Based on the present curators’ assertion that, by definition, photography is a modernist art form, it is the one area of the Museum’s collection that extends back to the 19th century with the invention of the medium in the mid-1800s. The collection now includes some 12,000 photographs and is renowned for its works by early modernist American and European masters as well as images from the tradition of landscape photography in the western United States and pictures that engage the larger issues of what photography is, how it has evolved and why it remains relevant.
Under the curatorial direction of Phillips, the photography exhibition program is exceptionally active. In the past few years alone, the department has organized such critically acclaimed exhibitions as Ansel Adams at 100; Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll; Stranger Passing: Collected Portraits by Joel Sternfeld; Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog; and Police Pictures. Presently, Phillips is organizing the major exhibition Diane Arbus Revelations, which will embark on a national and international tour after debuting at SFMOMA in October 2003.