San Francisco Fire Station #1 (Image Source:

After abandoning plans to build CAMP (Contemporary Art Museum Presidio) in July, the Fisher’s engaged in “hush, hush” talks with SFMOMA to expand their South of Market space (taking over San Francisco’s Fire Station No. 1 on Howard) and join collections.

And while not yet in writing, it appears as though those talks were successful assuming $60 million can be raised for the 100,000 square foot expansion.

“[A]dding the Fisher collection to SFMOMA would require expanding the museum, which involves city permits, an environmental review and design plans, and the removal of a century-old building and a fire station. The process could draw neighborhood and political opposition and most likely would take at least two years.

Newsom said he and others are working to fast-track the permitting process.”

Despite the Mayor’s words today (“To lose this would have been devastating”) it’s a mayoral effort that wasn’t quite as emphatic when plans called for building near District 7.

UPDATE (9/28): As a reader noted yesterday, Don Fisher passed away at his home in Pacific Heights. Our condolences to his family.

23 thoughts on “SFMOMA Snags The Fisher Contemporary Art Collection”
  1. Wow, so Mr. Fisher may not be the egoist that many have claimed him to be. This move shows that he simply wants his collection to be in the public realm and specifically in SF.

  2. I believe the fire station would be moving to a new larger station a few blocks west in Soma. So, not real far away, but not quite as close to the dense cluster of downtown. That would only leave the fire station on Sansome (? or is it Battery) north of Market as the only fire station in the heart of downtown. Smart? I don’t know.

  3. Great news indeed. If mr. Fisher can’t have a museum bearing his name, at least he can make a major expansion possible for a leading existing museum. I just hope the anti-everything wackos don’t find a historic urinal or something to champion to delay this project. As a city we’d be collective idiots to loose this substancial art collection. Let’s hope wiser minds prevail…

  4. This is a great solution. Central to transit and to tourists, and more efficient in that it utilizes the existing SFMOMA administration, while turning SFMOMA into much more of an attraction.
    I wonder if they’ll need to do eminent domain for the Heald College building next door to the firehouse?

  5. Bravo to the Fishers and all those involved to arrive at such a great solution after a difficult process! What a great day for San Francisco!

  6. ^ ha ha good one milkshake. To think, the first ‘post-modern’ artwork was devised over 100 years ago by one crafty fellow.

  7. “Wow, so Mr. Fisher may not be the egoist that many have claimed him to be.”
    Ummm, you do all recall that giving the collection to SFMOMA was the original plan right? And that it only went awry when he made all kinds of unreasonable demands of the Museum? Basically by shutting down CAMP, he was forced to go back to the original (and far more sensible) plan, and drop those unreasonable demands.

  8. When I saw the headline this morning, I said to my wife:
    “Fisher is giving collection to MOMA.”
    She replied, “Good, they need it.”
    They sure do. Watch the deaccessions over the next ten years!

  9. A friend told me that the whole Presidio-Camp phase was basically a clever negotiation move on the part of Fisher. The original demands that SFMoma had but on his donation were not acceptable as he wished for his collection to remain in complete unity, displayed in one place, and not be split up or sold off. The Camp/Presidio option forced SFMoma to reconsider how Fisher’s collection (donation) should be accepted, and how Fisher’s generosity should be valued.

  10. @Dan: Eminent domain is a tool that only the government can use. SFMOMA is a private organization, it only has the power of its wallet, not police power. And there’s no way in a blue moon that the City would ever consider using eminent domain on behalf of the museum. Maybe 30 years ago, but not anymore.

  11. Do not underestimate the importance of this donation to San Francisco. It really will raise our standing in the world of art. It will surely be the major headline in every art, antiques, and auction newspaper and magazine in the western world.
    SF is very lucky that Fisher did not shop his collection around the country, because every city, perhaps even NY, would have been doing whatever they could to get it. This is roughly equivalent to the one or another of the Rockefeller donations to the MOMA in NY. A big deal.

  12. THis is great news! I love reading a book on the rooftop garden at SFMOMA every now and then on Sundays … what a great space to access close to home. By the way, I thought I read that the Fishers are lending the artwork – not giving it away to SFMOMA. Details, details … I know.

  13. According to the article, a Fisher-controlled renewable trust will retain ownership, but the museum will be permitted to display Fisher items with other museum pieces where appropriate. Devil’s definitely in the details here–I assume the Fishers get their donation deduction, yet will retain a good deal of control:

    The museum already owns most of the land eyed for the extension. SFMOMA calls the latest Fisher family benefaction a “partnership” rather than a gift, but the plan calls for interweaving works collected by the Fishers into displays of the museum’s own holdings, “where it makes sense,” Benezra said.
    The Fisher family will form a trust, renewable in 25 years and administered in collaboration with the museum, to care for the Fisher collection. The Fisher Trust, which apparently will own the collection, will consult closely and continually with SFMOMA’s curators and conservators, as the collections’ contents cut across art media.

  14. I could care less about the drama lead up to this. This is a fantastic idea and i hope i comes to pass. It is a great collection and this is the right place.

  15. Shza- yeah I ment almost 100 years ago. The urinal/fountain was devised in 1917. The idea was so far ahead of it’s time, it truly struck me as amazing. But I think Warhol really pioneered post modernism in the fine arts. Even in the early 70’s it was ahead of it’s time. Post modernism only really took off in the 80’s in the art world. And frankly, by now I’m sick and tired of mostt of it!
    As for the debate if Fisher handeled this affair well, I’m on the side that respects the significance of his collection. He has the right to pursue how his collection will be handeled as he sees fit. And as others mentioned, it’s indeed very fortunate that he fully committed to SF and didn’t shop it around for the best terms.
    SFMOMA is a solid modern art museum, and benefited nicely from the Anderson collection earlier in the decade. But the Fisher collection, and the expansion, will kick it up another level. It and LA’s LACMA are the strongest modern museums on the west coast.

  16. A similar thing happened in LA. Eli Broad wanted to retain control of his collection, so rather than donating his collection to LACMA or building a new museum, his foundation built a new wing for LACMA, and work from Broad’s foundation’s collection is loaned to the museum.

  17. So sad! I noticed that their house has been having 24 security for quite a while now… I had no idea he was that ill…

  18. Why so sad? He lived a long and full life, and brought cheap unfashionable clothes to millions of Americans, and left behind an awesome art collection. We’re all going to die eventually — few of us will leave behind that kind of legacy.

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