The Fisher Collection: Scoping Out 'Calder To Warhol' at the SFMOMA


It’s a introduction with a hot must-see/sell-by date. “Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection” just opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week, but many of the staggering modern and contemporary artworks -- the buoyant Alexander Calder mobiles, epic, straw-strewn Anselm Kiefer paintings and monumental Chuck Close portraits -- won’t be on view forever (though the museum is now the home of all these masterworks). A good deal will be under wraps until the forthcoming expansion of the museum, which will include a new wing for the collection.

Astonishing to think that this grouping has grown from a few prints, acquired to decorate the headquarters of the Gap, the company Donald and Doris Fisher founded in 1969. More than 1,100 works later, we get a generous sampling in “Calder to Warhol,” the first public showing of the Fisher’s amazingly deep and broad survey of contemporary art. The show encompasses some 160 paintings, sculpture, photographs and video works, spread over the museum’s fourth and fifth floors and rooftop sculpture garden. Where to begin? Here, a few sights and signposts to stop and study.

Alexander Calder, Double Gong (1953)

Take curator Gary Garrels’ suggestion and start on the fifth floor with the artist that reaches back to modernism -- and the artist that the Fishers collected more extensively than any other (they acquired 45 Calder mobiles, stabiles and works on paper). Echoes of these endlessly fascinating works might be gleaned in the imagery surrounding the Gap -- as well as in Louise Bourgeois’ Spider (1995) in the rooftop garden.

Chuck Close, Gwynne (1982)

The Fishers gravitated to Close’s astonishing portraits of artist friends -- the two galleries devoted to the artist offer a close look at his many approaches, techniques and methods.

Philip Guston, The Street (1956)

An early abstract work prefiguring abstract expressionism, the blush, smudgily evocative The Street is one of a slew of the pieces by the so-called painter’s painter.

Anselm Kiefer, Margarethea (1981)

Touching on the golden hair of the heroine in Goethe’s Faust, as well as Germanic notions of purity, be it sexual or racial, Kiefer combines oil and straw in a series of scorched-earth works ready to sear the mind’s eye.

Roy Lichtenstein, Reflections: Whaam! (1990)

The comic-book teardrop explodes in one of the later works by the pop artist, who the Fishers collected with particular attention: 24 pieces find a place in their collection.

Agnes Martin, Night Sea (1963)

Described by Doris Fisher as “one of my favorite artists; her paintings move me deeply,” Martin is given her due in a gallery of her own, by way of the collectors who amassed paintings and drawings from all phases of the late artist’s career  -- her most powerful moment just might be Night Sea.

Bruce Nauman, Life Death / Knows Doesn’t Know (1983)

Advertising, media and pop culture are in the spotlight as the words of this neon and glass sculpture flicker on and off, shining considerable light on the onetime Bay Area-based artist ’s conceptual brilliance.

Sigmar Polke, The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible I (1988)

The spirit of the recently deceased Polke is still with us, embedded in this powerful, large-scale work inspired by American Indian saying and composed of tellurium and artificial resin, which changes color and reveals seemingly hidden images.

Gerhard Richter, Seestucke (Seascape) (1998)

The borders between photography and painting dissolve in this ravishing nod to German Romanticism. The Fishers gravitated to Richter’s varied, sensuous and provocative work, assembling 23 of his paintings.

Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis (1963)

Part of a series of pieces that concentrated on cinematic images, the King is triplicated, scattered across a literal silver screen and simulating the movement of movie frames.

“Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection” runs through Sept. 19 at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. For more information, call 415-357-4000 or go to

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