SFMOMA to Open Largest Photo Gallery in U.S. Museum



The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is vying to be a major center for the exhibition and study of photography.

When it reopens in 2016 after completing its 235,000-square-foot Snøhetta-designed expansion, the museum will unveil the John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography, which it says will be the largest exhibition space for photography of any art museum in the United States.

“This is a game changer,” Jeffrey Fraenkel, San Francisco photography dealer, told A.i.A. by phone. “This city has had a deep involvement with the medium that reaches back to the 19th century with Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, and continues in the 20th century with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. John and Lisa’s phenomenally generous gift insures that San Francsico will continue to be one of the most serious centers for photographic study well into the 21st century.”

The center will encompass 15,500 square feet, nearly tripling the real estate the museum previously devoted to photography. Nearly 11,000 square feet of that will be gallery space, and will include room for display of the museum’s collection as well as for special exhibitions; the center will include a study room for scholars. The museum will also institute a new curatorial post devoted to contemporary photography.

The center will underline what the museum says is its longstanding commitment to photography, which it has collected as early as the institution’s founding in 1935. The museum declined to give information on the cost of the new center, citing donor sensitivities. The namesake patrons are billionaires whose fortune stems from the Hyatt hotels.

“The new center, together with the gifts to our collection, represent a transformative development for our photography program and for the entire museum,” SFMOMA director Neil Benezra said in a press release.

Another ambitiously scaled Bay Area photography venue is San Francisco’s Pier 24, founded by Andrew Pilara, which weighs in at 28,000 square feet.

The museum’s photography holdings currently number 17,000 objects—its largest collection in any medium.

“Every museum should follow suit!,” said Catherine Edelman, Chicago photography dealer and president of AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, whose annual fair is taking place this week at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. “Some of the earliest exhibition spaces devoted to photography were in San Francisco, like the Friends of Photography, founded by Ansel Adams, and San Francisco Cameraworks. There’s a huge number of collectors committed to photography there and a wealth of photographers who come from the Bay Area, and so it’s fantastic news that they are devoting space to the medium that it is due.”