Even non-curators might immediately see some potential issues there related to the curtailment of curatorial freedom. But Benezra headed those arguments off at the pass. First, the Fisher collection is incredibly rich in great material, hardly leading to a reduction of options. Second, to focus on the agreement terms misses the real point: “What matters is not the contract, but whether the art will age well. The Fishers collected in depth on artists they committed to. We placed a bet that in fifty years Agnes Martin, Anselm Kiefer, Ellsworth Kelly, and so on will still be key artists. They will define late twentieth-century art. If we’re right, we’ll have made a good deal and we’ll have done the right thing by San Francisco.”
The fact that the collection was amassed by two individuals with particular tastes — his parents, who were also very involved with SFMOMA — is a good thing, according to Fisher. It makes the collection interesting and different, and because of its specific idiosyncrasies — namely that the Fishers collected particular artists in depth — visitors can see not one or two, but many works by a single artist, all together in a room. “New York has amazing Abstract Expressionist art, but if you want to see Jackson Pollock, you’ll only find maybe one or two pieces at any one museum. We can tell a different story here. Visitors can see four or more paintings by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, Chuck Close. If you want to see a great Chuck Close presentation, you now can in San Francisco.”
Fisher also noted that this massive long-term loan inspired other collectors to donate generously — to the tune of three thousand additional artworks. “The Collections Campaign was a story that came across well to the community. People embraced it. SFMOMA was able to approach collectors and say, for instance, ‘We don’t have a Gerhard Richter stripe painting, so if you give it, it definitely will be shown.’”
Is there an “American model” of public-private partnership?
The next panel concerned the American model of public-private partnership in the arts. It featured Agustín Arteaga, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, formerly director of several different institutions in Latin America; Joanne Heyler, founding director and chief curator of the Broad in Los Angeles; and Max Hollein, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, formerly director of Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle. Dominic Willsdon, SFMOMA’s Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice, moderated.