The director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art appeared at the Morning Forum of Los Altos April 1, reviewing the museum’s history and the forward-thinking steps leadership is taking to keep it growing and vital.
In his presentation, “SFMOMA On the Go,” Neal Benezra, who has served as director since 2002, said “it’s an exciting time to be a museum director.”
SFMOMA, founded in 1935, is the oldest museum of modern art in the United States. It was originally housed in the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue. Grace McCann Morley, director of the museum from 1935 to 1958, was a fan of emerging contemporary artists and sponsoring solo exhibits of major figures in modern art – she brought artist Diego Rivera to San Francisco, accompanied by his wife, Frida Kahlo.
The museum transitioned to a new building, designed by architect Mario Botta, at 151 Third St. in San Francisco in 1995. It began to host one-person shows in its spacious galleries. The exhibits have showcased artists such as William Kentridge, Gerhardt Richter, Agnes Martin, Wayne Thiebaud, Kahlo and Robert Rauschenberg.
Museums face many new challenges, according to Benezra, including rising prices in the art market, different approaches to exhibit catalogues and research materials, and accommodations for new acquisitions.
“These issues lead museums to think outside the box and redefine what it means to be a world-class museum,” he added.
Because rising prices have impacted museums’ ability to acquire art, SFMOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2012 launched a co-purchase program that enables them to share exhibits.
SFMOMA is currently undergoing renovation, designed to house the Don and Doris Fisher Collection, scheduled to open in 2016. Benezra and the board selected the Norwegian/San Francisco architectural firm Snohetta to construct a building with glass walls encircling the ground floor, which will be free of charge to give visitors behind-the-scenes views of a modern art museum.
“This building will give SFMOMA a new, welcoming face and enhance its reputation as a world-class modern art museum,” he said.
While the museum is closed for remodeling, SFMOMA organized a series of public programs at partner museums and other venues throughout the Bay Area, including “Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley,” which closed last month.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.