David A. Ross, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), today announced the Museum’s acquisition of two major groups of photographs. The first is the Prentice and Paul Sack Collection, a gift from San Francisco real estate investor Paul Sack and his wife Prentice—comprising over 1,000 photographs that span the history of the medium. The second is a group of 11 rare photographs by the American precisionist artist Charles Sheeler, which will be showcased in the exhibition Native Modern: Charles Sheeler and Precisionism, on view at SFMOMA from February 18 to April 27, 1999. The Sheeler works were purchased through gifts and promised gifts of Museum supporters.
“These acquisitions represent a dramatic transformation of SFMOMA’s already outstanding photography holdings into a truly extraordinary collection,” stated Ross. “The Sack gift enables us to present—through exhibition, publication, loan and study—the full history of the photographic medium. The Sheeler acquisition brings exceptional depth to our holdings in the art of this great American modernist.”
The gift of the Sack Collection was arranged through the formation of the Prentice and Paul Sack Photographic Trust, a supporting organization to benefit the Museum’s photography program. Through this trust, the Sacks remain actively involved with the collection while making it available to the Museum in perpetuity for exhibition, study, loan and preservation. The recent acquisition includes photographs previously donated to the Museum as fractional gifts.
“As far as we can tell, this is the first time an American museum has been the beneficiary of a private collection through the innovative charitable-giving structure of a supporting organization,” continued Ross. “We are indebted to the Sacks not only for their generosity, but for the creative vision that led them to compile such a significant collection and to provide for its future and upkeep in this dynamic way.”
Paul Sack added, “SFMOMA has been important to me for over forty years, and collecting photography has been a major activity of mine since 1987. I am delighted to be able to put these interests together by establishing a trust that makes my entire collection of photography available for use by the Museum. SFMOMA’s exceptional photography program has encouraged my interest and development in photography, and I am pleased to be able now to share my enthusiasm with a broader public.”
Describing the breadth of the Sack Collection, SFMOMA Curator of Photography Sandra S. Phillips explained, “The Sack Collection is a truly remarkable collection of pictures that enriches our collection enormously. A real estate investor, Paul has chosen pictures that contain private habitations of enormous diversity. His first photographic purchase was Walker Evans’ New York, South Street (Paul’s Restaurant), 1933, and from there he went on to build an important group of modernist pictures. The Sack Collection also has a fine and impressive gathering of 19th-century photographs, which now permits us to represent the full range of the medium. Paul has a genuine sensibility, a felicitous eye and an engaging love and curiosity for the medium—and we are the happy recipients of his enthusiastic support.” Select images from the Sack Collection will go on view at the Museum beginning March 27, 1999 as part of Picturing Modernity, an ongoing historical overview of the medium that draws, in rotation, from the SFMOMA permanent collection of photography.
The group of 11 Charles Sheeler photographs was purchased for the Museum through the gifts of numerous supporters. Ten of the images are duplicate prints from the William Lane collection, representing key moments in Sheeler’s photographic career—from his canonical Bucks County studies of vernacular architecture (ca. 1917) to the 1927 factory images for the Ford Motorcar Company at River Rouge, Michigan. The eleventh photograph comes from Sheeler’s later Chartres period in 1929. An American modernist artist whose working method anticipated that of many of today’s contemporary practitioners, Sheeler was notable for moving effortlessly between painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and film, often representing the same subject in more than one medium. With their quintessentially modern subjects and abstract, cubist-inspired compositions, Sheeler’s photographs have become icons of early 20th-century avant garde experimentation.
“It is an event when one Sheeler picture becomes available,” commented Douglas R. Nickel, SFMOMA associate curator of photography, who organized the Sheeler exhibition Native Modern. “To be offered almost a dozen of his images is truly extraordinary. Thanks to the generosity of this group of supporters, SFMOMA is now a major repository for the work of this important American artist.”
The group of ten earlier Sheeler photographs was purchased through gifts of Phyllis Wattis, The Susie Tompkins Buell Donor-Advised Fund of the Marin Community Foundation, Mimi and Peter Haas, Prentice and Paul Sack, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, Robin Wright Moll, Gary B. Sokol, Arne and Millie Glimcher, Peter and Susan MacGill, the SFMOMA Photography Accessions Committee and anonymous donors. An eleventh photograph, from the Chartres series, was purchased through a gift of Henry Buhl.
SFMOMA is distinguished as one of the first museums in the United States to recognize photography as an art form. Beginning with its founding in 1935, the Museum’s commitment to building a photography department of international stature is matched by few in this country. Based on the curators’ assertion that, by definition, photography is a modernist art form, it is the one area of the Museum’s programs that extends back to the 19th century with the invention of the medium in the mid-1800s. The collection of some 10,000 photographs has been particularly renowned for its works by early modernist American and European masters, as well as images from the Western tradition in landscape photography.
Under the curatorial direction of Phillips, the photography exhibition program has become exceptionally active. In 1999 alone, the department will organize two major exhibitions that will tour extensively: Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog, organized by Phillips and on view at SFMOMA from May 14 to August 3, 1999, is the first survey of this Japanese master’s work; it will travel to the Japan Society Galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Fotomuseum Winterthur; Museum Folkwang; the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; and the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego. Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception, organized by Nickel, will be on view at SFMOMA from May 28 to September 7, 1999, and then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.