Archive for CAMP in the Presidio

deCAMPed: Will SF Say Goodbye to the Fisher Collection?

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

(Previous VR posts on this subject can be found at A Day at CAMP: Thoughts on the Fisher Collection and The Evolving Uses of the Presidio: CAMP Update.)

John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain sculpture of crushed sheet metal/car parts in the Gap, Inc. lobby.

In a not unsurprising move, Donald Fisher officially announced Wednesday that he would withdraw his proposal to build a museum (CAMP) for his contemporary art collection on the Parade Grounds of the Presidio’s Main Post, making the prospects for keeping the collection in San Francisco seem ever more remote. Options are still available. Perhaps Fisher and SFMOMA will work out a suitable arrangement. Fisher could seriously consider the other Presidio site, the Commissary (currently home to the Sports Basement), which was mentioned early on by the Trust as its preferred alternative site.  A worst-case scenario might force Don Fisher to decide whether he would rather give up some curatorial control to MOMA in return for real estate in a prestigious downtown location or maintain absolute curatorial control in a more remote (and less prestigious) location. On the other hand he might just get a best offer from any number of other cities—Houston, Chicago, Miami, Boston.

The nearly two-year vetting process has pitted steadfastly competing interests against one another. Preservationists and neighborhood groups squared off against Fisher’s largesse, egotism and stubborn pride. And, as is often the case, the process of this rancorous bickering over often parochial interests nearly drowned out advocates for the public good—the greater economic, social, and psychic good of maintaining a broad and deep cultural collection in our city.

Finally, on Wednesday Donald Fisher signaled that he’d had enough, commenting: “Doris and I will take some time to consider the future of our collection and other possible locations for a museum, which could include other sites within the Presidio and elsewhere.”

For a lot of reasons, many consider the MOMA scenario to be the most sensible alternative. But the Commissary site (off Mason Street) at the Presidio is not a bad option. A contemporary art museum presents a vast improvement to the eyesore that currently occupies the site (temporarily in use by the Sports Basement).  Built in 1989, the Commissary is not protected as an historical structure. The plans for renovating Doyle Drive (construction begins in 2011) include an underground tunnel at the southern edge of the site that will camouflage traffic from the field below. Further, the tunnel’s grassy mound will slope gently towards the site, creating the feeling of a park. The restored (and protected) Crissy Field with its marshlands and beach, not to mention the wild frothy waters of the Bay and emblematic Golden Gate Bridge beyond, would be an impressive sight indeed from the second-story window of a new building . . .

One thing is for sure: if the Fishers’ ambitious and high-quality collection ultimately lands elsewhere, the real losers will be not only be the impersonal “city of San Francisco,” but the very personal you and I. The city will perhaps loose the incremental tourist revenue that comes with a world-class museum, nothing to scoff at.  You and I on the other hand will miss out on an huge chunk of American culture (there are over 1,000 pieces in the collection), as well as the incalculable joy of exercising our imaginations, while contemplating works by Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Philip Guston, Richard Long, David HockneyElizabeth Murray, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Sean Scully, Chuck Close, William Kentridge (visitors to the recent MOMA exhibit will remember that the Fishers own many Kentridge’s pieces), Jeff Wall, Bill Viola, and Sigmar Polke, among many others.

Now is a time like no other for the public to stand up for the public good. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s MOMA or the Commissary—both are fine options—just as long as the collection stays here. Letters to the Fisher, the MOMA or Presidio Boards, the Chronicle could help influence the decision. We can’t afford not to.  Otherwise, the final words might best be the refrain from Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always got to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?”

Wider Connections

Donald Fisher—CAMP

Presidio Board; Presidio Trust contact

MOMA Board contact

Letters to the Editor, Chronicle

Kenneth Baker visits the collection (video)

The Evolving Uses of the Presidio: CAMP Update

Posted in Architecture, Bay Area Art Scene, Liz Hager with tags , , on March 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Note: Other VR posts on this subject can be found here.

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Model: revised design for the Main Post area, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio (WRNS Studio, San Francisco, architects).

Venetian Red first reported on the proposal for the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio in A Day at Camp.

Since 2007, when plans were first unveiled, public comment to the Presidio’s development plan for its Main Post has focused largely on the proposal for the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio (CAMP). To be fair, some of the more vocal opposition takes issue with all the new buildings planned for the Post, but it’s pretty clear the museum is the linchpin of their opposition.

The CAMP proposal exists within the context of a much larger discourse—namely, the role of the Main Post within the Presidio and the evolving purpose of the Presidio itself.  Given the uniqueness of the Presidio, many factors must be taken into account.

First, there is the issue of how a National Park in the midst of an urban environment stays relevant to its community.  In its 2001 white paper, “Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century,” the National Park System Advisory Board acknowledged that parks “were not, could not be, static entities,” that they “no longer be thought of as islands with little or no connection, cultural or ecological, to their surroundings.”  The Board stated its clear desire to empower a Parks Service that would benefit a new generation of citizens in a culturally-diverse, increasingly-urban, and ever more-rapidly changing world, although rightifully it offered no specifics on how parks should accomplish that. In the context of the white paper’s mandate for the Park System to “reach out to museums, parks and cultural venues, linking them with shared stories and interpretation”  (Section V), how could American art not be relevant to a 21st-century urban-based park?  Further, with attendance records dropping at historical “theme” parks all over the country, isn’t it only fiscally responsible for Presidio Trust, which must be financially self-sufficient in the next year or two, to look at other “draw” options?

Second, the Presidio is already an unusual mixed-use park with a city-like infrastructure (over 800 buildings) and vast cultivated forestland that requires management resources shared between NPS and Presidio Trust. Although the Presidio is a National Historic Landmark District, not all of its buildings have historic designation. Aggregate square footage gained by demolishing non-historic structures may be used legitimately for new construction in existing areas of development, as long as the overall cap on developed square footage is maintained. (That’s why, elsewhere in the Presidio, the LucasArts complex could replace the demolished Letterman Hospital.) The addition of CAMP to the Main Post does not violate these guidelines.

Third, the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio, had a civic identity long before the CAMP proposal came along.  As an Army base, by the late 20th century, the Presidio had become a virtual city-within-a-city, the Main Post its concentrated hub, and the Parade Grounds, an asphalted parking lot. Since 1994, when the Presidio was designated a National Park, municipal projects—rehabilitation and revitalization—have continued at the Main Post.  In 2002, the Presidio Trust adopted an overall management plan for the park (PTMP) and began to realize a long-term vision, in accordance with processes dictated by the various agencies—National Park Service, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Since then, scores of buildings on the Main Post have been rehabilitated. Many new buildings have been constructed, including, for example, the one currently occupied by La Terrasse restaurant (not historically themed by the way). Cultural entities are already slotted for the Main Post. There doesn’t seem to have been much opposition to the the Disney Family Museum, a cultural museum dedicated to the life of Walt Disney, soon to take up residence at its Montgomery Barracks building. All this is in addition to the improvements that have been made elsewhere in the park that have brought city-dwellers to live in the Presidio. With all of this, though, the Main Post still feels like an isolated collection of buildings; like every grand public space, it needs an anchor or two to tie it all together.

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(Model detail) CAMP building as seen from entrance, looking west from Parade Grounds.

In 2007, the Trust notified the various agencies and the public of significant new proposals for the Main Post (including CAMP) that were before it. This February, as part of the prescribed planning process for the Main Post area, The Presidio Trust released the revised draft (“Preferred Alternative”) of the Main Post Update to the PTMP, as well as accompanying environmental and findings of effect documents required by the planning process. This draft had been revised based on extensive agency and public comment.

The updated PTMP states three primary objectives for the Main Post: reveal the Presidio’s history; create a welcoming place; and employ 21st-century green practices. CAMP falls under the second objective, as do rehabilitation of the existing Presidio Theatre (with new addition) and new construction of a Presidio Lodge.  Strategies to meet the other primary objectives are well laid out by the current PTMP document.

Given the discussion points above, it would seem that the only legitimate complaint in regard to the original CAMP proposal is the footprint and design of its building.

The newly-proposed designs from WRNS Studio goes along way to ameliorating prior concerns. This design shows greater sensitivity to the physical attributes of the site and the emotional sentiment about the Main Post. WRNS has re-placed the building to a less conspicuous corner of the Parade Grounds and made considerable design modifications to the structure. Rather than a boastful and lonely white-box eyesore sitting predominantly above ground, the architects have suggested a modest structure, mostly underground, quite suitable for a park-like setting.  What remains above ground is unobtrusive and exceptionally well-integrated with its surroundings; its low-slung peaked roof gently hugs the ground. This design suggested the possibility of a “living” roof, which would fulfill the Presidio’s commitment to sustainability.

Regardless of what the final design may actually look like, PMTP parameters insure a roofline no higher than 30 feet from ground level and more or less 60% of the projected 70,000 sq. feet underground.  As a side note, WRNS seems particularly well-schooled in the art of the underground structure.

Artist’s Rendering, CAMP proposal, WRNS Studio.

For sustaining the city’s lively arts community, as well as enhancing the visitor experience of San Francisco, the importance of keeping this unparalleled collection of modern American art (West Coast artists amply represented) together and publicly on view in San Francisco cannot be understated. (The Fisher collection provides needed depth lacking in MoMA’s American offering.) Imagine the Presidio, a mixed-used park, with its Main Post as the West Coast echo of the National Mall, more modest in scope to be sure, but still a vital and relevant space that instills a sense of pride in our American history and culture.

The new design for CAMP, together with parking and transportation logistical proposals, ought go a long way to removing remaining legitimate opposition. Apparently various state and federal agencies have been convinced. Still, rumors abound that, once the Presidio files its Document of Record (the Board approval of final plan parameters for the Main Post), lawsuits to stop construction will be filed. All this could happen as early as this summer.

Get educated, make comments, stay involved:

Graphics of the plan, as well as the model of the current proposals for the Main Post, on view at Bldg. 105, every Friday and Saturday 10am-12pm through April 18th.Any one may comment on any aspect of the revised PTMP through April 20th, either online or by mail. Submit a Comment.

SPUR presentation “The Future of the Presidio’s Main Post” April 7, 12:30pm.

The final public meeting (Board of Directors) will be held on Tuesday, April 7th 6:00 pm at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyons Street).


Wider Connections

CAMP homepage

Current Planning Documents

New design renderings

National Mall current planning

SF Citizen, more pictures of the proposed design

WRNS Studio


A Day at CAMP: Thoughts on the Fisher Collection

Posted in Architecture, Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Paper with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by Liz Hager

One of the 1,000+ pieces in the Fisher collection: Chuck Close, “Phyllis,” 1984, pulp paper on canvas

Don Fisher’s proposal for a Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio (CAMP) has generated substantial uproar since its unveiling last summer.  At the root of the controversy are the 100,000 square-foot building—designed by the Gluckman Mayner Architects to house Fisher’s extensive collection of contemporary art—and its placement on the parade grounds of the Presidio.  

Since the details of the proposal became public, many have weighed in on the value of the collection to the community and the aesthetic costs of the current proposal.  Other than a video of art critic Kenneth Baker touring the collection with Don Fisher, however, there aren’t many details available on the collection itself.

In a move to drum up support for his proposal, Don Fisher hired Ground Floor Public Affairs. In September, the group was conducting guided lunchtime tours of the collection for members of the public. As it turned out, the tour did not cover the whole collection, although there was certainly on view to form an opinion about the value of the collection within a greater art historical context.

The tour congregated in the lobby around Richard Serra’s sky-scraping sculpture “Charlie Brown.” So-named because it was installed on the day Charles Schultz died, the piece has an internal space (characteristic of some Serra works) created by the placement of massively vertical steel slabs. The resulting acoustics make for a wild and child-like experience, as tour members whispered and sometimes felt compelled to shout while inside. Unfortunately, “Charlie Brown” will not be part of the CAMP collection, as it was purchase by the Gap, not by Fisher.  

Six large rooms (and one or two hallways) on the bottom floor of the Gap’s headquarters house the artworks on public view. Overall, it was hard to detect a particular curatorial hand in the collection (and the reason may be because there hasn’t ever been a curator of the collection). American artists figure prominently, although a few of the artists, such as Sean Scully, were born elsewhere and live here, and some—including Richard Long and Gerhard Richter—aren’t American and don’t live here. Not visible were Damien Hirst or Anselm Kiefer, arguably necessary components in any collection of contemporary art. To be fair, however, these artists might be represented in the collection, just not on public view. 

Works are presented in loose chronological order—i.e. Lichtenstein and Stella in the first rooms through Jeff Wall and Sam Taylor in the last room. This organizing principal isn’t so strict as to prevent a meditative pairing of Agnes Martin’s organically-inspired 1950/60 paintings with Richard Long‘s reverent natural stone “Autumn Circle” (1990) on the gallery floor. 

In the aggregate the Fisher collection does a fine job offering up the eminent artists of the last four decades—including Philip Guston, Sol LeWitt, Elizabeth Murray, Bryce Marden, Bill Viola—a solid starter course on contemporary art. What’s more, with many of the artists represented by multiple pieces the depth of the collection provides important glimpses of individual leitmotifs, as well as an overview of the march of artistic movements. Three Sean Scully paintings hanging together brings out the lyrical quality in his structured “bricks” of color technique; a single painting could not do this. Almost an entire room of Chuck Close works clearly demonstrates the artist’s prowess manipulating media in service of “portraiture, redefined.”  The two copies of “Phyllis” hanging side by side illustrate this point well.  The larger (above) is constructed from quarter-sized disks of reconstituted paper pulp; a smaller study has been executed purely with his fingerprints. Both from a distance read with photographic-like clarity. 

There is no doubt that San Francisco would be immeasurably enhanced by a public venue for this collection. But how to deal with its container?

There are loads of fantastic contemporary buildings that fit in, even augment, their surroundings. One need look no farther than to the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences for examples of successful parkland museums.  Herzog + de Meuron and Renzo Piano  have managed to conjoin two buildings of radically different design with a neo-classical bandshell in a graceful embrace of their shared plaza. Perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to edifices on those sites, as buildings had been there previously for nearly a century.

By contrast, the Gluckman Mayner big square white glass box plopped on the wide-open (rehabilitated) green of the Presidio parade grounds is austere.  The CAMP building feels self-conscious and alone, like a singleton in desperate need of a sibling.

Fisher’s proposal may ultimately pass the public review process, but this is not a fore-gone conclusion. Under National Park rules, the Presidio Trust must publicly vet the proposal.  As a result it finds itself embroiled in the community agitation; the July BOD meeting is a painful reflection of that. For his part, Don Fisher has threatened to keep the collection private.

One hopes that the benefactor will be persuaded to move the building to one of the less prominent, though no less agreeable, sites suggested. One hopes the historic preservation, YMCA and various other groups fighting the proposal will see that the right modernist design will augment the beauty of the Presidio.  IIf a compromise cannot be reached, we all lose. 

Want to dig deeper?

July 2008 BOD transcript

Tyler Green on the proposal

Corrections & Amplifications—10/25/08

* The Trust does not operate under the National Park’s Organic Act, but under the Presidio Trust Act. All federal agencies must comply with the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, which determine the public process. Neither the state nor the city have any decision-making authority, but clearly it is better to have their support than not. 

* The Y does not oppose the project. 

* The Fisher collection has more than 1,000 pieces, many of which are in the Gap executive offices and various other locations without public access. 

 

 

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