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Fisher's Parting Gift
Days before his death, Don Fisher promises art collection to SFMOMA
Christmas came a little early to SFMOMA. In a deal that was announced only two days before his death from cancer, Don Fisher, the founder of the Gap clothing chain, announced that his billion-dollar modern and contemporary art collection had found a home at SFMOMA, quelling months of rumors that the collection would leave the city.

The move, announced on Friday, boosts the San Francisco museum further into the upper echelons of art institutions. The 1,100-work collection includes some of the biggest icons of the last 60 years in art, from Andy Warhol to Richard Serra to Roy Lichtenstein, and is considered one of the best private collections of contemporary art worldwide.

The announcement dovetailed withan ambitious expansion plan that the museum announced last spring directed by Gensler. A new wing is being designed that will triple its gallery space, consolidate its offices and house more educational and conservation programs. The expansion, estimated to cost between $65 and $85 million, would take the museum’s footprint to 150,000 square feet and not disrupt the façade of the building.

"San Francisco is where we raised our family and opened our first Gap store, and we want to give back to the city we love by sharing the art that means so much to us," said Don Fisher in a release. "Doris (Fisher’s wife) and I share a vision with SFMOMA to enhance its collections and programs and we are prepared to make a substantial gift to strengthen the museum's standing as one of the world's great contemporary art museums."

Since opening its Mario Botta-designed building in 1995, the museum has outgrown its space, doubling its collection to 26,000 works. The expansion, slated to go along its southern face and extend to Howard Street, would free up administrative offices for new gallery space in the main museum and offer additional exhibit space in the new wing. No construction date has been set because the museum has yet to receive city permits and an environmental and design review. In a city where the planning review is lengthy and activists routinely stall projects, the expansion is likely to take about two years. The museum’s $24 million rooftop garden, originally scheduled to open last fall, was delayed for eight months and didn’t open until last May.

Finances will also play a large role in the expansion. While the Fisher family will likely make a financial contribution, the museum must craft a business plan detailing its fundraising strategy. It has already purchased land around it in anticipation for an eventual expansion, but still needs to cobble together some additional parcels in the surrounding area.

There has been no formal contract signed between the museum and the Fishers, who will retain ownership of the collection and administer the collection through a renewable 25-year-trust. Rather than be relegated to a permanent gallery, the Fisher collection will be exhibited throughout the museum and displayed alongside other works in SFMOMA’s collection.

The deal follows the deflation of the Fishers’ original plan, to build their own museum in the Presidio. A few years ago, the Fishers submitted plans to build a modern museum in the midst of the historic parade grounds. In July, the couple withdrew their proposal after running into a buzzsaw of controversy with environmental and community activists who didn’t want to mar the historic centerpiece of the former military post. The city has since been rife with rumors over whether the Fishers would pull their art collection out of San Francisco and send it elsewhere.

WRNS Studio, who worked on the latest incarnation of the Presidio museum, will now give way to Gensler, who is designing SFMOMA’s new wing. Arthur Gensler, who is on the museum’s board will continue to oversee the expansion. He refused to comment on how the Fishers’ gift will impact the museum’s expansion.

Kristina Shevory