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Chunk of the “Hunk”: Andersons’ Collection Bypasses SFMOMA for Stanford

Pollock, “Lucifer,” 1947, Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Collection

Win one, lose one.

One can only speculate that when the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art signed its deal to borrow (for at least 100 years) the 1,100-work Donald and Doris Fisher Collection, it may also have unintentionally helped Stanford University sign its deal to acquire highly important works (including the great Pollock, above) from the Harry W. (“Hunk”) and Mary Margaret (“Moo”) Anderson Collection. Had their Bay Area collection gone to SFMOMA, the Andersons’ smaller but blue-chip benefaction might have been overshadowed by the larger Fisher trove.

In comments made to Jori Finkel of the LA Times, Hunk suggested that the Fisher/SFMOMA pact was indeed a significant factor in his decision to favor the university over the museum. He told Finkel:

We’ve already given 30 works to SFMOMA and now, in addition, SFMOMA has received for all practical purposes the [Don and Doris] Fisher collection, so their cup runneth over.

Major California collectors increasingly seem to feel the need to immortalize their agglomerations in museums-of-one’s-own. Eli Broad’s self-funded The Broad, dedicated to his 2,000-object contemporary collection, is scheduled to open in downtown LA the winter after next. The Fishers had unsuccessfully sought to establish a museum dedicated to their collection on the national park land of San Francisco’s Presidio. The late Donald Fisher had been secretary/treasurer of the SFMOMA’s board of trustees and co-chair of its collector’s committee.

The Andersons’ collection, which began taking shape almost 50 years ago, is legendary. In 2000, SFMOMA mounted a show of 330 works from that trove (far larger than the group of 121 works by 86 artists now going to Stanford), billed as “the largest exhibition in the history of SFMOMA—occupying three floors of the museum.” That show was surely intended as a donation inducement.

Here’s what Kenneth Baker, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s art critic, wrote at that time:

Probably no private collection illustrates the course of American art since World War II better than that of Peninsula residents Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson.

In his article last week reporting on the Anderson gift, Baker cited the Andersons’ previous benefactions to SFMOMA, which, in 1992, “provid[ed] the core of its Pop art collection.” In 2001-2002, they gave the museum seven Frank Stella paintings, dating from 1959 to 1988. Further details about the couple’s collecting activities are provided on the Anderson Collection website.

Still unannounced are the Andersons’ plans for the disposition of the many other works that remain in their collection. Lisa Lapin, Stanford’s assistant vice president for university communications, told me:

Stanford is receiving what the Andersons consider to be the “core” of their collection with respect to the New York School. However, their entire collection is considerably larger—close to 800 works, including works on paper and outdoor sculpture, none of which are coming to Stanford.

What’s surprising about the Stanford/Anderson deal is that the donors don’t seem to be kicking in money for construction, operations or endowment of the eponymous gallery that Stanford will build in their honor, to open in late 2014. According to Lapin, “university funds from various sources, including philanthropy, are expected to be used for the construction and operations of the Anderson Gallery.”

Left to right: Harry Anderson, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence (daughter) and Mary Margaret Anderson (wife).
Behind them: Kline, “Figure 8,” 1952 (left) and Rothko, “Pink and White over Red,” 1957 (both part of the gift going to Stanford).
Photo: Linda Cicero, Stanford University

Decisions about the architect, the size of the new building and the cost of construction “are still in the works,” according to a spokesperson.

Wanna see this celebrated collection before a chunk of it leaves for Stanford? Monthly public tours of the Andersons’ private facility will resume on Sept. 17.

an ArtsJournal blog