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A Museum as Big as The Ritz

There was a slight, yet mutual, case of structural envy in the air during last night’s Director’s Circle Dinner at SFMOMA.

The event typically honors a leading artist who kicks-off the evening with a pre-dinner talk.

Breaking the mold a bit this year, SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra chose to honor his French counterpart: Alfred Pacquement, Director, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle.

To you and moi? That would be the Pompidou Center in France -- repository of the world’s finest collection of modern and contemporary art.

Like SFMOMA’s much-anticipated and soon-to-be unveiled (May 10) Sculpture Garden, the Pompidou is also in expansion mode. In May 2010, the Pompidou debuts a brand new museum, Centre Pompidou-Metz which will feature rotating collections from the 59,000-strong permanent exhibits of the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Mon dieu? Oui. But SFMOMA'S Sculpture Garden was much on Pacquement’s mind.

“I’m very jealous to hear that you are able to add to your building, which means adding to your collection,” said Pacquement, with great Gallic grace. “In our case, we are limited by our building in Paris where it is impossible to add a new wing.”

“The Pompidou is a slightly larger building than ours,” said Benezra later, with a wry smile. “What I wouldn’t give for a building the size of the Pompidou!”

SFMOMA Board Vice Chairman Arthur Gensler and his wife, Drue Gensler with SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra

There was much cross-cultural pollination at this year’s dinner which was engineered by event co-chairwomen Helen Schwab and Gretchen Leach (with a major assist from former Board of Trustees chairman Elaine McKeon).

Pacquement’s wife, Caroline Pacquement, had worked as the personal assistant to Gretchen Leach at the French Embassy when Gretchen’s husband, the Hon. Howard Leach, served as the United States Ambassador to France.

The Leaches so loved their time in Paris they maintain an apartment there.

“When Howard’s appointment was up, I found I couldn’t say ‘Au revoir’ to Paris,” said Gretchen. “So we decided upon ‘À bientôt’!”

We wondered if Pacquement had chanced a glimpse of Barack Obama during the President’s French fly-by during the recent G20 Summit. Alas. But the Director pondered a bit on the course of Franco-American relations.

“There is a long history in the relationship between France and America of love and hate,” said Pacquement. “But the French have always maintained a deep respect for, and admiration of, American culture.”

“From the great artists in all disciplines: arts, letters, cinema -- Woody Allen is probably more popular in France than America," Pacquement continued. "But whatever the politics between the two countries are, that doesn’t affect the general feeling in France of cultural admiration for America.”

Nor does it seem to affect French tourism in San Francisco. Pacquement was enjoying his time on the road which was a bit of a break as it coincided with a national holiday week back in France: “As I walked around the streets here today, most of the accents I heard were French!”

Now in its 23rd year, the Director’s Circle Dinner is a beloved tradition (sans speech-ifying and pledge pleas) that pays tribute to the museum’s most stalwart of supporters ($15K-per-annum and up).

Among the swell supporters at this invitation-only event: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi; District Attorney and SFMOMA Trustee Kamala Harris; Board of Trustees chairman Charles Schwab; Honorary dinner co-chairman Sotheby's Jamie Niven; Carolyn and Preston Butcher; Austin Hills; Norah and Norman Stone; Cathy and Ned Topham; Eileen and Peter Michael; Bobbie and Mike Wilsey; Pam and Richard KramlichPhyllis Moldaw; Frank and Kay WoodsHelen Hilton Raiser; and Vicki and Kent Logan.

Supper was set in the Schwab Room (with decor by Pretty Pretty Props) where guests dined on McCall Associates delicacies (wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli, grilled loin of lamb, roasted bananas with vanilla gelato and caramel sauce). But the star of this savory savoir faire was the primo vino from the Peter Michael Winery.

Sir Peter Michael and his wife, Lady Maggie Michael, have kindly donated their wines to this dinner for the last 15 years,” toasted Benezra. “And I’m so honored to finally meet them!”

Whether it was the vino or the Gallic inspiration, as he looked out over the crowd, Benezra got a touch sentimental.

“I look around this room and I see our family; this is our SFMOMA family,” said Benezra. “With your support, confidence and faith in us, we have accomplished so much together.”

And after almost two years of construction on the Sculpture Garden, Benezra was especially thrilled by a recent sighting he’d had earlier in the day.

“For the last year, a very large red crane has been sitting outside the window of my office. I’ve watched as all sorts of building materials have been transported up to the roof during construction -- including Porta Potties,” said Benezra. “But today? I watched as the 18-foot-high Stele I by Ellsworth Kelly zoomed by.”

“This,” declared Benezra, “Is what we live for here. This is what we love here. This is what we work so hard for here at SFMOMA!”

Check out the photos below

 

The Hon. Howard Leach, Caroline Pacquement and SFMOMA Board Chairman Charles Schwab

Paul Pelosi and his wife, Speaker Nancy Pelosi

SFMOMA Trustees District Attorney Kamala Harris and Bob Fisher with Bob's wife, Ann Fisher

SFMOMA Trustees Adriane Iann and Marissa Mayer and Mayer's fiance, Zach Bogue

Ken Siebel and his daughter, Melissa Seibel

Jim and Susan Swartz with Karen and Frank Caufield

Honorary Dinner co-chairman Jamie Niven of Sothebys with Pacquement

Norah Stone and her husband, SFMOMA Trustee Norman Stone

SFMOMA Trustee Bradley James with her husband, Chris James and Daniel Lurie

Randi and Bob Fisher

Caroline and Alfred Pacquement with gallerists Gretchen and John Berggruen

SFMOMA Trustee Susan Swig with SFMOMA curator Henry Urbach

Nancy and Joachim Bechtle with Fine Arts Museums Board President Dede Wilsey and Fine Arts Museums Director John Buchanan