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Calder & Noguchi Air Balls: SFMOMA Lobs Some Foul Shots for the Golden State Warriors

Although the Golden State Warriors narrowly lost the NBA Championship to the Toronto Raptors at last night’s nip-and-tuck Game 6 of the finals, the California team can count on two consolation prizes: a spiffy new stadium—the Chase Center—set to open this fall in San Francisco (moving the team from Oakland); and some eye-catching artworks to adorn their new digs.

Having controversially deaccessioned a classic Rothko (given to it by the artist himself) in order to fund future acquisitions, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is now raiding its collection for another dubious purpose—adorning the new for-profit sports arena. As reported by Sam Whiting in the San Francisco Chronicle, the museum will part with two attractive crowd-pleasers—a Noguchi sculpture and a large Calder mobile. The expected duration of these long-term loans to Chase Center has not, to my knowledge, been revealed.

Here’s the white Calder, a long-term loan to the museum from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, as it was installed high in the entrance atrium for the museum’s 2016 reopening:

Alexander Calder, “Untitled,” 1963, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
©Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: ©Iwan Baan, courtesy SFMOMA

The museum has also commissioned two new works for the stadium—by David Huffman and by Hughen/Starkweather. “Chase Center was responsible for [SFMOMA’s] logistical expenses” for this program, according to the museum.

In response to my query, SFMOMA’s spokesperson told me that it had entered into this partnership with a sports venue in order to “inspire and encourage new audiences to connect with contemporary art, visit the museum and experience our larger program.” But another way of looking at this is that the museum is depriving its core audience of on-site access to two key works, for the benefit of a commercial enterprise.

Part of this could be money-driven: Whiting of the Chronicle was told that there was “no rental fee for the pieces borrowed from SFMOMA.” But in response to my query about compensation, the museum’s spokesperson revealed to me that SFMOMA would receive an “honorarium [that] will support exhibition and education programs at the museum.” Its spokesperson didn’t answer my emailed question about the amount of that compensation.

I’m closely acquainted with a little Silicon Valley native who might, like me, lament the relocation of the Noguchi from its peaceful home in the outdoor plaza of a nonprofit museum to the rowdy surroundings of a for-profit sports arena: Enter CultureGrandson, stage right, for an improvisatory dance around the appropriately titled “Play Sculpture” partnered by a more seasoned performer, whose troupe was practicing for a later performance at SFMOMA. Its label explicitly invited visitors to “to play on this sculpture.”

There’s something about Noguchi that elicits inspired choreography:

The Chase Center’s ambitious art program has additional components, according to its announcement:

—33 works for the stadium and its surrounding area are being commissioned by Sports and The Arts (SATA), which describes itself as “a full turn-key fine art design service.”

—“A signature piece of artwork for the district” will be created by Olafur Eliasson. Whiting reports that “the nature of the piece is a secret, but it is being curated by Dorka Keehn of Keehn on Art and will be introduced in August.”

—The stadium’s “naming rights partner, Chase, will provide artwork from the distinguished JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, begun in 1959 by David Rockefeller, then president of the Chase Manhattan Bank.”

For me, the bottom line is that nonprofit art museums shouldn’t be lending their works to for-profit enterprises—not to commercial art galleries and certainly not to sports arenas. It will be interesting to see how this breaching of boundaries sits with other museum professionals, audiences and donors. Another of my questions that SFMOMA didn’t answer was whether the Fisher heirs and the Noguchi estate had been consulted about these unorthodox arrangements.

One thing I do know is that the Warriors’ heartbreaking last game in their old stadium may make them glad to start afresh next season in new surroundings, whether or not the art helps to lift their spirits.

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