Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fisher Collection at SFMOMA 1: The Donald

Bob Fisher, one of the sons of Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher, addressed the cultural press on Wednesday morning at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

He was there as the Fisher family representative for a major, hastily assembled exhibition, "Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection," which is opening on Friday the 25th.

Donald Fisher, in one of many pugnacious moves over the course of his lifetime, was insisting until recently that his 1,110 piece modern art collection should be housed in a modernist building to be constructed in the middle of Presidio Park.

The idea of a massive new development in a national park didn't go over so well with many San Franciscans, some of them fairly rich and powerful themselves. However, it seemed a done deal because of Fisher's massive wealth and political connections, not to mention the fact he was the first Chairman of the Presidio Trust when the military base was transformed into a supposedly self-sufficient national park.

People wondered why he didn't just donate his collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he and his wife had long been trustees, and from reading between the lines the issue was one of control. Fisher demanded it and the museum wouldn't cede it, so Fisher decided to build an institution in what he probably considered "his" park.

In September of 2009, the 81-year-old patriarch Donald Fisher died of cancer, and the next day there was an announcement in the San Francisco Chronicle that the entire Fisher Collection had been donated to SFMOMA after all.

There were some conditions, including building a huge addition to the 10-year-old museum, which is supposed to be completed in five years or so if the money is raised.

The cliche "Behind every fortune lies a great crime" is pertinent in Mr. Fisher's case. Besides being a union-hating, right-wing Republican, his corporation's subcontractors routinely used child slave labor (click here for a 2007 U.K. Guardian article) and along with son Bob, he formed the Humboldt Redwood Co. which specialized in clear cutting old growth redwood trees in Mendocino County (click here for the website).

Like many malevolent robber barons before him, Donald Fisher laundered the fruits of his capitalism into art treasures, and the impressive result now belongs to the people of San Francisco.

1 comment:

Pura Vida said...

Hi Mike,
I am loving the Bourgeois' mama spider photo. Her work has always given me solace.