Gap founders offer art museum in Presidio

Donald and Doris Fisher want to turn a site at the former San Francisco military base into a home for their huge collection.

August 08, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of the Gap, have made an offer to fund the design and construction of a contemporary art museum that would be located in the heart of San Francisco's Presidio and would house their extensive collection of 20th and 21st century art.

The offer, scheduled to be announced today in San Francisco, will be evaluated by the Presidio Trust as part of what it envisions as a public competition encouraging other individuals and organizations to submit plans for a major cultural institution. The site is now a 7-acre parking lot at the Main Post area of the Presidio, a former U.S. military facility that has been turned into a national park.

The massive Fisher collection includes more than 1,000 works by Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, among other leading artists.

Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, said this week, "I don't think anyone would disagree that this is one of the great contemporary collections in the state, the country and the world. Don and Doris have picked their artists well, and then they have collected them in great depth."

Said Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio: "To bring a collection of that magnitude and reputation to the Presidio would be fantastic."

But, he added, the museum project is far from a done deal.

"There's a little competitive piece in it all -- we're really looking forward to this as a sort of catalyst for other vibrant cultural uses that could enliven the Main Post," he said.

"I think it's one of those things where we're going to be asking people to not only provide ideas that would complement this idea but, if they can, top it."

The Fishers -- billionaires who founded the Gap chain in 1969 -- have engaged Gluckman Mayner Architects of New York City to plan the proposed 100,000-square-foot museum, which would include 55,000 square feet of gallery space for the Fisher collection as well as traveling shows and other public and private art collections.

The firm has worked on a number of U.S. museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. It also designed the space at the Gap's San Francisco headquarters that houses the Fisher collection.

"It will not be just for our collection. I really want to make it an exciting place for the public," Donald Fisher said in an interview Tuesday.

Fisher, 79, a former member of the Presidio Trust, acknowledged that it would probably take a year for the trust to evaluate the offer and "find out whether anybody else wants the same spot and makes a better proposal for it."

However, the Fishers are already proposing a name for the institution: CAMP.

"It deals a little bit with the Presidio being a military camp but also stands for Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio," Fisher said. Most important, he added with a laugh, "it's not my name."

Fisher said it would be impossible to estimate the monetary value of the Fisher collection or the costs of constructing a museum to house it.

He predicted that if the offer was accepted, it would take two years to construct the building. SFMOMA's Benezra hazarded a guess that a museum appropriate for the collection would cost at least $80 million.

Fisher, a longtime trustee of SFMOMA and a major donor to that institution, said that he decided to propose a new museum for his collection rather than donating or lending the artworks to SFMOMA or a similar institution elsewhere because "our collection is too big for that museum to show, and no museum will guarantee that they will show your collection.

"I also want to have some fun being the curator of my collection while I'm living, so this gives me the opportunity to have some fun," he said.

For his part, Benezra said he saw no competition between SFMOMA and a new institution devoted to contemporary art.

"It seems to me that this is a community and a region that can sustain many cultural institutions -- it has proven that throughout the years," Benezra said.

"I think SFMOMA welcomes the idea that that there will be more reason to think of San Francisco and visit San Francisco because of modern and contemporary art."

If the Fisher project is approved, it will join another museum on the Presidio: The family of the late Walt Disney is rehabilitating a 19th century barracks building on the property to house a museum dedicated to Disney's life and the art of animation. Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller said this week that the opening of the museum is tentatively planned for late summer or early fall of 2009.

Fisher said that he and his wife had considered remodeling one of the Presidio's historic structures to house their collection but that none was appropriate for their art holdings. He said that he had not thought about where the collection might go if the plan is rejected by the Presidio Trust.

"That's a whole other question," he said.


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