Blog Category: news

de Young at Heart

I admit it: I LOVE museums. I have a sense of wonder every time I walk into one, and (obviously) art museums are among my favorites. But sometimes my kids get a little bored or start to complain after an overdose of paintings and sculptures, so I was thrilled last month when the de Young was transformed into a magical wonderland where children and their families romped, danced, and experienced art in a whole new way. The de Youngsters: A Bigger Family Party, the inaugural celebration of the next generation of museum-goers and art patrons, brought children, parents, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco together for a night of pure joy.

Jugglers performing on top of Andy Goldsworthy's Drawn Stone in Diller Court

Give Original: The Holiday Artisan Fair at the de Young

We all have those people in our lives who are difficult to shop for, whether they’re super stylish, seem to have everything, or are just plain picky. Luckily, the Holiday Artisan Fair at the de Young offers a unique variety of gifts for everyone on your list. Now in its seventh year, the season’s best shopping event features 17 of the Bay Area’s top artisans displaying their unique wares. An extensive variety of jewelry, textiles, home accessories, books, stationery and gifts for kids make the Holiday Artisan Fair the perfect opportunity to buy local and meet the artisans 

A variety of jewels, housewares, and unique gifts that will be featured in the Holiday Artisan Fair.

A Conservation Triumph: 1994–2013

For the first time ever, three prized tapestries from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection will be exhibited together in the Legion of Honor’s Gallery 1. The entire series, known as The Triumph of the Seven Virtues, consists of seven tapestries that depict allegorical representations of the theological virtues—Faith, Hope, and Charity—and the cardinal virtues—Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude. While 10 museums in Europe, the United States, and Russia possess tapestries from this series, the Fine Arts Museums have The Triumph of Fortitude, The Triumph of Prudence, and the only extant example of The Triumph of Justice.

The monumental tapestry (and the only one of its kind) The Triumph of Justice

Triumph of Justice from The Triumph of the Seven Virtues Series, ca. 1535. Belgium, Brussels, Flemish. Wool, silk; tapestry weave. Gift of The William Randolph Hearst Foundation. 1957.125

Ruth Asawa (1926–2013)

SAN FRANCISCO (August 7, 2013) —The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are saddened by the loss of Ruth Aiko Asawa, who died on August 6, 2013, at the age of 87. Asawa was a groundbreaking modernist sculptor with whom the Museums enjoyed a long-standing relationship. An internationally exhibited artist, teacher, arts advocate, and Museum trustee, she leaves a remarkable legacy.

Stella!!!

Step into Gallery 14 at the de Young and you will immediately encounter the riot of geometric color that is Frank Stella’s impressive 12-foot-square painting, Lettre sur les aveugles II (1974). This vibrant new acquisition represents the first of Stella’s paintings to enter the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

A Message from the President

Diane B. WilseyAs an extensive national search to find a new director draws to a close, we look forward to making a public announcement soon. As we prepare to embark on the next chapter of our long history it’s a good time to reflect on the amazing success we’ve experienced over the past several years.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF)—which comprises the de Young and the Legion of Honor—is one of the most successful organizations of its kind in the world. We operate under the highest standards of governance. It is because of our high standards that we are a flourishing art institution that continues to exceed expectations both financially and artistically.

Our organization is among the largest and most respected art institutions in the country. Due to the efforts of our talented staff and dedicated Board of Trustees, we have been able to bring to San Francisco some extraordinary exhibitions such as:

  • Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
  • Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay
  • Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay
  • Girl with the Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis
  • And, coming in 2013, David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition

Have Turban Will Travel

Objects are fussy. They’re susceptible to humidity, light levels, vibrations, and any number of other dangers, both large (floods) and small (mice). And whether it’s a tiny tea cup or a four-ton bronze statue, each object also has its own idiosyncrasies. Wood, for example, doesn’t get along with water, and paper can’t stand light. A museum is carefully designed, in part, to control all these factors and to give objects the secure and stable home they deserve. But what happens when an object needs to travel outside the museum’s walls?

The permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco number over 100,000 objects, and only a percentage are on view. However, many of these treasured artworks can be viewed in exhibitions at other institutions throughout the world at any given time. When art objects are loaned in this way, they often travel for long periods of time, which is why it’s so important for our conservators to carefully prepare objects for their extended journeys. Such was the case when the Cleveland Museum of Art requested to borrow an ancient turban from the Nasca culture of Peru, featured in the exhibition Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes that opened last week.

Turban, 200–600. Peru, South Coast, Nasca. Cotton cord wrapped with a band of camelid fiber fringe. The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection Gift of Caroline McCoy-Jones. 2000.17.5

Mummy by the Bay: Irethorrou, an Egyptian Priest of the Early Persian Period

This Halloween, we take you inside one of the Museums’ most enigmatic inhabitants: the mummy Irethorrou. While mummies have long been the antagonists of numerous horror films, they also provide us with incredible insight into the funerary practices and religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians. We dare you to read on as curator Dr. Renée Dreyfus and Egyptologist Jonathan P. Elias unwrap the Museums’ mummy.

Mummy of Irethorrou in Coffin

Mummy of Irethorrou in Coffin, ca. 500 BC. Egypt, Akhmim, Middle Egypt. Human remains, linen, wood with polychrome. Gift of the First Federal Trust Company (from the Estate of Jeremiah Lynch). 42895

#MuseumOlympics Torch on Fire: A Story of Collaboration and Social Innovation

For the past two weeks, the world watched athletes from the world over compete and triumph in the 2012 Olympic Games. Meanwhile, museums the world over competed on Twitter in the tongue-in cheek competition #MuseumOlympics, which originated right here in San Francisco. Willa Köerner, digital engagement associate at SFMOMA and today's g uest blogger, takes us behind the scenes of #MuseumOlympics and reveals the origins of what will surely become a new quadrennial tradition.

Taber Olympics

Isaiah West Taber (American, 1830–1912). Olympic Club Day, 1894. Gelatin silver print. California Midwinter International Exposition, through M.H. deYoung. 2502

Conservation in 3D: Skype, Stereographs and Silicon

Recently one of the Museums’ most generous supporters, Dorothy Saxe, purchased a sculpture for the collection in memory of our late director John E. Buchanan. Created by contemporary glass artist Beth Lipman, Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit (2010) is a complex compilation of multiple elements balanced precariously on a table. My role as an objects conservator is to ensure that all the elements of this fragile sculpture are installed safely and in keeping with the artist’s original intent.

A Conversation with Max Fishko

Next week the city of San Francisco will be flooded with art dealers and collectors, all clamoring to see the newest and brightest at the second annual artMRKT contemporary and modern art fair. The event’s opening festivities kick off this Thursday, May 17 and feature a preview reception benefiting the de Young and the Legion of Honor museums.

We recently sat down with artMRKT co-founder Max Fishko, a third-generation gallerist from New York City, to get his take on the contemporary art scene at large and in San Francisco.

Max Fishko

Max Fishko, co-founder of artMRKT

Friday Nights at the de Young Are Back!

What do Jean Paul Gaultier, Lady Gaga, Don Draper and Frida Kahlo all have in common? They're all themes featured in Season Eight of Friday Nights at the de Young. After a four-month hiatus, the de Young opens Season Eight tonight, Friday, March 30, with a bigger than ever community party celebrating The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk to Catwalk .

Bringing the San Francisco Streets into the Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier!

The designs of Jean Paul Gaultier often straddle the seemingly divergent worlds of haute couture and street fashion. To illustrate the profound influence of the street’s wild style on Gaultier’s designs, the museum commissioned San Francisco based artist Rio Yañez to create a 65-foot long graffiti mural, which will serve as the backdrop for the Punk Cancan section of the exhibition.

In Memoriam: John Edward Buchanan, Jr., 1953–2011

John E. Buchanan, Jr.

Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: 2006–2011

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announces with great sadness the death of John Edward Buchanan, Jr., Director of Museums, on Friday, December 30, 2011  Mr. Buchanan passed away at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer.

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Art of the Radical Left (Coast)

Throughout art history, politics have inspired, informed and incited the cultural production of artists throughout the world. In today’s context of social and political unrest, the subject seems particularly relevant. Two major exhibitions in San Francisco and New York currently bookend the country with the art and politics of the radical left. In both Pissarro’s People (on view at the Legion of Honor through January 22, 2012) and Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art (on view at the Museum of Modern Art through May 14, 2012), the political beliefs of the artists are placed front and center.

Pissarro Harvest

Camille Pissarro. The Harvest, 1882. Tempera on canvas. 27 11/16 x 49 9/16 in. The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, donated by the heirs of Mr. Kojiro Matsukata, P.1984-3

Whatever Happened to Friday Nights?

Last week marked the close of Friday Nights at the de Young's season seven. We sat down with public programs director Renee Baldocchi to reflect on the past successes of Friday Nights at the de Young and to learn about what’s in store for the future, including upcoming programming for The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

Monet's Water Lilies Returns to the Legion of Honor!

Claude Monet’s incomparable Water Lilies has returned to Gallery 19 at the Legion of Honor! Following its display in two important temporary exhibitions, Water Lilies visited the Fine Arts Museums’ paintings conservation laboratory. In celebration of Monet’s birthday today, here is a behind-the-scenes look at the painting’s whereabouts over the past year.

Finding Picasso

While the museum is closed to the public most Mondays, it welcomes hundreds of students and teachers to visit special exhibitions, such as Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. You may nostalgically remember this kind of field trip as day off from the classroom, but the education department’s school programs team makes the field trip a “day on” for young learners.

Every Which Way But Up

When installing a painting or sculpture for exhibition, determining the correct orientation of the work is (perhaps obviously) paramount. When discussing modern art, a seemingly simple question like “Which side is up?” can become much more complicated; and occasionally when dealing with abstract art, this determination can be downright perplexing.

Two paintings recently reinstalled in Gallery 50 at the de Young have raised this question for years. Since they first arrived at the Museums, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Petunias and Arthur Dove’s Sea Gull Motive have puzzled viewers and art historians alike.

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887–1986). Petunias, 1925. Oil on hardboard panel. Museum purchase, gift of the M. H. de Young Family. 1990.55. © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Discovering Connections: Teaching Institute Hosted by the Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, and the Fine Arts Museums

For the past three years the education departments of the Asian Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have met to explore how collaborative programming can better support Bay Area teachers. Last week, building on this objective, the museums jointly hosted a four-day institute for high school teachers that focused on the theme of Discovering Connections.

Follow that Art! Balcomb Greene's Six-Sided Planes in Context

Last week, we followed Six-Sided Planes into the photgraphy studio where it was shot for record identification. Today we learn about the history and significance of this painting from the curatorial perspective.

My name is Emma Acker, and I’m a curatorial assistant in the American Art department at the Fine Arts Museums. In May of this year, I presented Balcomb Greene’s Six-Sided Planes as a potential purchase to the Acquisitions Committee of our Board of Trustees.

The World-famous "David" Violin is on View at the Legion of Honor!

For a limited one-month engagement, the famed violin “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú) is on display at the Legion of Honor through August 10!

Bequeathed to the Museums in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, who was one of the world’s greatest violinists, this instrument currently spends most of its time at the San Francisco Symphony in the skilled hands of Concertmaster Alexander “Sascha” Barantschik.

Guiseppe Antonio Guarneri del Gesu (Italian, 1687–1745). Violin, ca. 1740. Spruce and maple. Bequest of Jascha Heifetz. 1989.6.1

Follow that Art! Six-Sided Planes Gets a Makeover by Paintings Conservation

Last week Balcomb Greene’s Six-Sided Planes made its first entry into the Museums and the acquisitions process via the registration department. This week, the painting heads upstairs to the paintings conservation lab for a little makeover.

My name is Elise Effmann and I’m an associate paintings conservator at the Fine Arts Museums. Conservators are entrusted with the care, treatment and technical study of artworks in the collection. When a painting comes to the Museums as a proposed acquisition, our department must examine it to provide the curators with information about how it was made, and to determine if there are any potential problems with the acquisition due to its condition.

The Lod Mosaic as Muse for Berkeley High School Seniors!

Last week, the Legion of Honor received a special visit from Berkeley High School’s Latin class. This group of thirty-seven seniors took time out of the final, hectic days of high school to see Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, which has served as their muse for the past several weeks.

Follow that Art! Balcomb Greene's Six-Sided Planes comes to the de Young

Every piece of art in the Museums has a history. Whether an artwork has a long and storied past or was recently created by a living artist, its journey doesn’t end when it arrives on our doorstep. 

This is the first in a series of posts that will follow a single work of art, Balcomb Greene’s painting Six-Sided Planes, as it moves through the Museums on its way to exhibition. Greene was an artist and intellectual, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, and a leading writer and proponent of abstraction.

We will follow the painting’s progress from its first entrance into the Museums via the registration department, through the conservation and curatorial review, onto the process of approval by the Board of Trustees, and finally the public display of the painting in the galleries.

Our first stop is the registration department, where the painting is first received and stored:


Balcomb Greene (American, 1904–1990). Six-Sided Planes, 1937. Oil on canvas. Potential Museum Purchase. L11.16

RTI Photography of the Red-Figure Pelike

In my last post, I introduced you to the cutting edge photography Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a technique invented by Tom Malzbender at Hewlett Packard Labs. Here at the Museums, we have been using RTI to gain better understanding of objects in our permanent collection. We have just completed another round of RTI photography of this 5th-century Greek pelike.

FRAME|WORK: Ponds and Streams by Wayne Thiebaud

FRAME|WORK is a new weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week we feature a landscape painted by one of our marquee artists, Wayne Thiebaud.

Cutting Edge Photography Technique Comes to the de Young!

My name is Sue Grinols and as the director of photo services and imaging, I witness the intersection of art and technology on a daily basis. This is an exciting time to be working in photography. Just seeing how technology is changing the field can be breathtaking, not to mention challenging.

Photographing artwork is a sub-specialty of studio photography. Here at the Museums, we use the same equipment and techniques as photographers who produce beautiful images of cars, perfume bottles, leather couches, and the perfectly grilled steak. But instead of trying to capture the steak’s sizzle or the couch’s inviting warmth, we attempt to bring out the essential character of the artwork while emphasizing its sublime beauty whenever possible. When we’re not doing that, we can make images that show the hard, cold details of an object in order to help conservators as they work through treating the artwork, or to help curators in their scholarly study of an object. It is this second type of photography that I want to blog about today.

When the earth shakes, come to the de Young!

In 2009, senior registrar Stephen Lockwood came across a series of ledger books while examining the de Young’s offsite storage facility. These antique books contained detailed records of the weather and daily attendance at the de Young since its opening day in 1895. One entry was particularly interesting: