Archive for Sean Scully

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)

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. 

 

 

Higher Aspirations

Posted in Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , on May 29, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Sean Scully, Wall of Light, Alba, oil on linen, 2001  (©Sean Scully)

While I was writing recently about the quilts of Gee’s Bend (see “Inner Sympathy of Meaning”), I couldn’t stop thinking about Sean Scully’s work. One of my  initial thoughts was to pair the two bodies of work—there seemed to be a lot of fodder for discussion. But the expansive scope of that endeavor quickly became apparent and I wasn’t seeing a way to rein it into a blog entry.  So, I left the comparisons for another venue, acknowledging that Scully’s work would stand alone in its own entry.

Still, as I start out on this discussion, I can’t help but note perhaps the obvious— that despite the difference in materials and process, and beyond their similarity of design (i.e. rectangular blocks of color), both the quilts and Scully’s paintings share a spirituality that derives from a deep connection to the universal human condition. My guess is that the Gee’s Bend quilters were just following their hearts, taking pride in making something beautiful out of a utilitarian folk form,  unconscious of any “deeper” meaning all of us might ascribe to the pieces.

Sean Scully, on the other hand, is very deliberate and passionate about using abstract form to explore our Ur-emotions. He once explaned:

“I’m interested in art that addresses itself to our highest aspirations. (Abstract art) allows you to think without making oppressively specific references, so the viewer is free to identify with the work. It’s a non-denominational religious art. I think it’s the spiritual art of our time.”

Not bound to figurative references and the biases each of us harbors about them, Scully is able to explore all aspects of humanity untethered.  As a lover of patterns, I marvel at the way he creates complexity by repeating a simple shape without succumbing to repetition itself.  I respond on an inexplicable, instinctual level to his use of layered color.  There’s something at once both vibrant and soothing about the combinations. Further, in applying the paint so that vestiges of layers beneath show through, Scully has created a sort of living, breathing thing.

Look at them long enough and the compositions begin to suggest places you’ve been. In Wall of Light, Alba (above) I can see a sunny harbor on the Mediterranean (millions of geraniums) or perhaps the pine-scented mountains of Eastern Turkey with their chalk-y outcroppings.  His Figure in Grey series remind me how grey New York can be.

Sean Scully once confessed: “Every day I look at the sky to capture the colour of the day with an anxiety to achieve a synthesis between the cultural world, natural world, and personal world.” High aspirations indeed.

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