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Critic's Notebook: SFMOMA antes up

February 5, 2010 |  4:30 pm

Andy Warhol's Triple Elvis, 1963, from the Fisher Collection. Credit Fisher Family News that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has raised $250 million in the last six months for an expansion of its building and program is nothing if not jaw-dropping.

"Great Recession"? What "Great Recession"?

Plainly that designation only applies to those in the nosebleed seats of an economy that, over the last generation, has witnessed a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class upward. A quarter-billion dollars -- just more than half of the museum's presumed fundraising goal -- is nothing to sneeze at, especially as the San Francisco Chronicle's Kenneth Baker reports that all of it came from "core members" of SFMOMA's board of trustees. (It's often the case that such pledges are parceled out over several years.) Those pockets are not merely deep, they are also open. Good for them.

Another good sign: The first $100 million of the pledge will go toward doubling SFMOMA's endowment.

The immediate lure, of course, is the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection of modern and contemporary art, with 1,100 works by mostly high-profile New York and European artists. Letting that trove get away after Donald Fisher's death last fall was clearly not an option.

Once planned as its own free-standing vanity museum -- a regrettable idea -- the Fisher collection is now to be housed at SFMOMA in a very unusual, long-term loan lasting 100 years. (It's renewable too.) The establishment of a trust to execute the commitment suggests a certain caution, which an outright gift would dispel; but the speedy fundraising achievement likewise suggests that the museum is forthrightly stepping up to the plate.

You can practically see the two sides moving toward each another in a negotiation that should also nicely benefit the public. Merging a major private art collection with a museum that can claim an enviable history -- this is SFMOMA's 75th anniversary year -- represents an equally enviable cultural maturity.

I wonder whether such a thing could happen elsewhere?

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Andy Warhol's "Triple Elvis," 1963, from the Fisher Collection. Credit: Fisher Family.

Related: San Francisco's Modern art cache: The Fisher collection