The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced today the creation of the John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography, which will be the largest exhibition space for photography and among the most advanced photographic arts centers of any art museum in the United States.
Funded by a lead gift from the Pritzkers and generous gifts from four additional benefactors, the more than 15,500-square-foot center will nearly triple the current amount of space for photography at SFMOMA and extend the museum’s deep history of groundbreaking engagement with and commitment to the medium. The Pritzker Center will fill the majority of the third floor when the museum reopens in 2016 following its Snøhetta-designed expansion.
Including increased gallery space to showcase more of SFMOMA’s growing permanent collection as well as new special exhibition galleries, the Pritzker Center will provide nearly 11,000 total square feet of gallery space permanently devoted to the display of photography—more than in any other art museum in the country. The center will also feature an upgraded photographic study center and an innovative interpretive space that will be the first of its kind in the country.
The lead gift from the Pritzkers is joined by additional gifts from San Francisco–based philanthropists and museum supporters David Mahoney and Winn Ellis; Nion McEvoy; Kate and Wes Mitchell; and Mary and Andrew Pilara. The museum’s general expansion campaign will also enable the creation of a new curatorial position dedicated specifically to contemporary photography; expanded exhibition development; increased conservation and education efforts; and more research-based travel opportunities for SFMOMA curators as well as visiting artists and scholars.
The combined investment in SFMOMA’s physical space and its endowed resources will build on the museum’s historical role in fostering appreciation of photography and support its work in illuminating the medium as it evolves into the 21st century.
“The Bay Area has always played an important role in the history of photography and is home to a uniquely vibrant and engaged community of enthusiasts and private collectors,” said John Pritzker. “We’re thrilled to support San Francisco and SFMOMA as the preeminent center for all things photography and to further cement the museum’s long-standing leadership in the study of a medium that’s such a far-reaching and powerful cultural force.”
When SFMOMA reopens in 2016, the scope and design of its exhibitions will reflect new prominence in photography, bolstered by the Pritzker Center’s expanded focus and capacity as well as the dramatic growth of the museum’s photography holdings, which currently number some 17,000 objects—its largest collection in any medium. Since the last update in 2012, more than 500 photographs have been pledged, gifted, or purchased for the museum as part of its Collections Campaign and other ongoing acquisitions activity, bringing the total number of recent contributions to more than 1,000 works. The gifts and acquisitions announced today include significant works that further SFMOMA’s commitment to photography made in and about the American West—a commitment that dates back to the museum’s founding in 1935.
Photographs from several San Francisco–based collectors, but especially a large group of work from David Mahoney and Winn Ellis, enhance already deep holdings of pictures of Western culture and landscape that span three centuries, from Carleton Watkins to Anthony Hernandez. These include key works by Edward Weston, Minor White, and Imogen Cunningham, as well as important artists who worked in the West in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Jay DeFeo, Robert Heinecken, Lewis Baltz, and John Divola. The acquisitions and gifts announced today also include photographs by other key artists already held in SFMOMA’s collection, such as Ansel Adams, Ken Graves, John Harding, Hal Fischer, Michael Jang, Pirkle Jones, Dorothea Lange, Mark Ruwedel, Stephen Shore, and Larry Sultan; and portfolios of photographic work by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.
“The new center, together with the gifts to our collection, represent a transformative development for our photography program and for the entire museum,” said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. “We are extremely grateful to our trustee Lisa Pritzker and her husband, John, and to our other supporters, whose vision and generosity will make SFMOMA a global destination for anyone with an interest in photography.”
The museum’s photography collection will live on-site, divided between two state-of-the art storage vaults. One vault will be adjacent to the center’s print study room, allowing researchers and students to have greater access to the collection, and the other will be a new cold storage vault for color photography on the museum’s lower level. Generously supported by a grant from the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the new storage facilities elevate the care of the collection to the highest professional standards. They also support SFMOMA’s recently announced collaborative conservation program, The Artist Initiative, which will expand the museum’s expertise and leadership in the field of preservation issues surrounding color and experimental photography of the 1970s and 1980s.
“It is difficult to imagine a better and more fortunate set of circumstances than these incredible new spaces for photography and the addition of these significant new artworks to our collection as we deepen our commitment to exploring the medium’s evolving future,” said SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography Sandra S. Phillips.
SFMOMA was one of the first museums in the United States to collect and present photography as an art form, and its photography collection traces the development of the medium from its invention in 1839 to present-day digital technology. Among the distinguishing features of the collection are the finest holdings of Japanese photography outside Japan; a strong body of Surrealist and avant-garde European work, from Man Ray to László Moholy-Nagy; extensive holdings of 1970s experimental photography; and a concentration of work that explores the nature of the documentary tradition, from the 19th century to the present.
SFMOMA’s collecting and exhibitions program, which encompasses the whole reach of photography, is a testament to the museum’s inclusive and boundary-pushing approach to the medium. The museum has also consistently led scholarship in the field, whether through major monographic exhibitions and publications devoted to important artists (such as the currently traveling Garry Winogrand retrospective) or events such as SFMOMA’s recent photography symposium, which convened leaders in the field to discuss the rapid and fundamental changes in photography with the rise of social media, digital photography, and amateur photojournalism.
The Pritzker Center will ensure that SFMOMA continues to set the precedent for the display, research, and preservation of what is current and important in the field of photography, both in the United States and across the globe. Upon completion, it will feature:
- New Special Exhibition Galleries (5,000 square feet)
These significantly larger and more flexible spaces will allow SFMOMA to continue its acclaimed exhibition program and to host a wider array of traveling exhibitions from around the world.
- Enhanced Permanent Collection Galleries (5,880 square feet)
Galleries devoted to the collection will feature a greater depth and variety of presentations drawn from the museum’s own holdings of more than 17,000 works and will triple the number of photographs displayed each year. These galleries are an especially important component of SFMOMA’s expansion program, as photography comprises the largest collection of any medium at the museum.
- Photography Interpretive Center (1,500 square feet)
Connecting the permanent collection galleries and special exhibition galleries, an innovative interpretive space will allow visitors to explore the medium in depth and enhance their understanding through a variety of interactive experiences. The first of its kind in the country, this welcoming space will offer greater insight and context around the history of photography as well as multiple paths into SFMOMA’s collection. Addressing such themes as the fashioning of identity through self-portraits (including the recent “selfie” craze), the role of pictures in shaping our perceptions of the California landscape, and the evolution of new technology in photography, all exhibits in the interpretive center will be activity-based and self-directed, encouraging visitors to curate their own experiences.
- Print Study Center (3,220 square feet)
A more accessible and improved study room within the print study center, designed for hands-on viewing of prints, drawings, and photographs stored in the center’s high-density vaults, will accommodate greater numbers of visiting scholars and students. The adjacency of the print study room to the photography galleries will also allow scheduled researchers more direct engagement with the museum’s photography program. An adjacent classroom space will promote more opportunities for intellectual collaboration between the museum’s curatorial and education departments and the public.
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About SFMOMA’s Expansion
Since SFMOMA’s founding in 1935, the museum has drawn nearly 23 million visitors, 50 percent of them since moving to its current location on Third Street in 1995. Over the past 17 years, San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood has grown up around the museum: new hotels, retail, restaurants, and residential properties were built and continue to thrive, all contributing to the tax base and economic vitality of the city. In 2016 SFMOMA’s new home will again transform the neighborhood as a major tourist attraction and as an employer: upon completion of the expansion, SFMOMA anticipates an over 20 percent increase in employee numbers as well as a 20 percent growth in its audiences, which averaged 650,000 annually in the years leading up to the museum’s temporary building closure for construction. The expansion will create more than 1,400 new jobs in construction and related areas, and SFMOMA will be an even greater economic stimulant when it expands its operations and purchases of goods and services from Bay Area businesses.
To date, SFMOMA has raised more than $570 million toward its $610 million capital campaign goal—a total that includes funds for both construction and endowment.