Kudos to the Chronicle's John King for today's scoop on Donald Fisher's decision to abandon his contentious plan to house his modern art collection at the Presidio National Park.
"Doris and I will take some time to consider the future of our collection and other possible locations for a museum," King quotes the Gap, Inc. billionaire as saying.
Presumably, this means Fisher will resume his struggle, abandoned a couple of years ago when he announced plans to build a warehouse-sized Presidio museum, to convince organizations such as San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art to create a special Don and Doris Fisher wing filled with the couple's high-end collection of contemporary sculptures and paintings.
Though our local museums haven't always been loath to stroking billionaires' egos, the Fishers' request has so far apparently been too much. Presumably, Fisher's late-life ego quest will seem even more loathsome the second time around. To quote Jon Stewart: "Please. Stop. Do something constructive for a change."
Before Fisher re-embarks on his Cartaphilus-like quest for a new site for his collection, he should take a serious look at where it's been all along: the giant art-display facility at Two Folsom Street that Fisher built in 1999 with the help of $18 million in financial benefits obtained via the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. This Gap headquarters building was built, clearly, as a giant art-display facility whose purpose somehow faded over the years into a more traditional corporate building.
According to a May, 2009 Gap, Inc. proxy statement, the Fishers pay $1 million per year to store their art collection at the headquarters. Behind the battle for a Presidio modern art museum was an apparent wish by the Fishers to obtain tax write-offs for housing their collection, rather than the current situation, where they must pay annual rent.
But surely some sort of deal could be worked out between the Fishers and Gap to store the collection at Two Folsom in a way that's accessible to the public. Fisher proposed spending millions, and receiving millions in tax breaks, to produce a public museum in the Presidio. Why not spend that money in a place far better suited for inviting the public to view artwork? Two Folsom, after all, is strides away from BART, ferries, the Transbay terminal, the F-line, buses; it's the perfect museum site.
As SF Weekly reported in 2007, the massive Gap lobby, which takes up most of the ground floor, seems designed specifically as a space for displaying works of art in a way the public could appreciate. The building's atrium was designed around a 60-foot-high Richard Serra sculpture consisting of steel plates twisted into a warped obelisk. Indeed, the entire bottom floor appears to have been designed as an art gallery. There are dozens of inset display spaces all over the walls.
Hinting at the space's apparent purpose, in 2007 Roy Lichtenstein cartoons appeared in five of these spaces. The rest were decorated with huge photographs of the Gap headquarters and images from Gap catalogs. Further enhancing the building's weird, unused-art-museum quality is a small downstairs art gallery open -- only to employees -- between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Upstairs, meanwhile, at Fisher's 15th-floor Bay side office, elevators open into a city block-wide art gallery packed with avant-garde statues, sculptures, paintings, and installations. By the time a visitors arrive in Fisher's house-sized office, they are imbued with the message that they have obtained an audience with a very important man.
Everyone who visits Fisher -- the politicians whom he routinely seeks to intimidate, the business rivals and employees whom he wants to put in their place -- must spend a minute or so traversing a complicated maze created with what looks like a billion dollars' worth of investment-grade art.
Would it be such a terrible thing to repurpose these spaces away from private aggrandizement of Don Fisher, and toward public appreciation of artwork?