an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Credibility Gap: Dubious Approval Process for the Gap Founder’s Contemporary Museum

Donald Fisher
Donald Fisher, founder of the Gap and now its chairman emeritus, got the public-relations jump with his announcement last week of plans to build his own 100,000-square-foot facility for his vast contemporary art collection on the national park land of San Francisco’s Presidio, a former military post, which was immediately embraced with enthusiasm by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s distinguished art critic, Kenneth Baker.
Watching this video of the tour that Fisher gave Baker of the collection, it’s easy to see why: The assemblage is extraordinary in depth, breadth and quality. (Don’t miss Fisher’s jibe at the Whitney for selling a Calder that now hangs behind his desk.)
But local reaction has not been uniformly enthusiastic and yesterday the Chronicle looked the gift horse in the mouth with an editorial noting that the new museum building (to be designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects) will need to defer architecturally “to the 19th-century military buildings that surround it” and that the Presidio Trust, which has yet to approve the project, “could surely consider ways to draw in a wide economic range of clients and visitors.”
What’s most problematic to me about this project is the way in which it seems to ride roughshod over the appropriate approval process. Despite all the publicity and fanfare, it’s not a done deal because the Presidio Trust is obliged first to issue a Request for Proposals for other potential uses of the site. According to the Trust’s website:
The Trust is required to undertake reasonable competition for opportunities in the Presidio. When a proposal of merit is submitted, the Trust offers an RFP for the proposed use or site so that others may compete for it and so that the public understands what is being proposed and what actions the Presidio Trust may take. Proposals received by November 9, 2007 will receive first consideration.
But it’s obvious that, procedural niceties aside, Fisher, who was a founding member of the Presidio’s board, has the inside track. Other potential applicants might well conclude it’s not worth the trouble, given this premature endorsement by David Grubb, chairman of the Presidio Trust board of directors, charged with considering all proposals:
The Fisher proposal is very exciting. It would be great for the Presidio and great for the City.
And Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust, chimed in with a statement that “this exciting museum proposal will generate momentum and energy for the creation of a dynamic public place in the Presidio.”
Some mechanism is needed to insure that this unconventional use of national park land is vetted impartially and that other applicants have confidence that all proposals will get a fair hearing.
The big loser here is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has shown works on loan from Fisher, who is secretary/treasurer of the museum’s board of trustees and co-chair of its collector’s committee. But, as Fisher says on the Baker video:
We talked. But I have such a big collection. For them to show it all the time and for me to have any kind of control over it was not what they wanted….You give it away and people leave it in the basement.

an ArtsJournal blog