You find nothing in the Archive but stories caught halfway through: the middle of things; discontinuities.
Arthur Brown had a thing for towers. The famed architect of Coit Tower, Hoover Institution Tower at Stanford, San Francisco City Hall, and San Francisco Art Institute’s 1926 Chestnut Street campus oriented our faux-Italian hillside around a non-functioning tower. There’s no bell and no lookout. Brown’s postmodern gesture came before its time and is now a famous home of ghosts. The SFAI tower also shrouds an indispensable archive of nearly 150 years of art history—spanning the founding documents of the San Francisco Museum of Art to early acid-trip induced exhibitions.
Since its founding in 1871—as the first art organization west of the Mississippi—San Francisco Art Institute has lead the formation of new art forms, ideas, and histories. This project reveals SFAI’s singular history as a place where contemporary art history happens, and artists invent the future.
Ghosts of the Tower unveils the initial implementation of SFAI's recently awarded Institute of Museums and Library Services two-year grant to digitize and make widely accessible the Exhibitions and Public Programs Collections. In a collaborative project between the Anne Bremer Memorial Library and the Exhibitions and Public Programs department, the collections will be rehoused, processed, catalogued, and selections digitized, beginning in the Atholl McBean Gallery. This public process offers the SFAI community—including students, faculty, and the public—a rare firsthand opportunity to explore the breadth of SFAI’s archives' fugitive material.
The Exhibitions and Public Programs Collection contains a vast store of unique primary source materials, including over a thousand recordings of artist lectures, correspondences, catalogs, installation views, and posters. Within the trove are John Cage’s legendary question-and-answer sessions, San Francisco Art Association’s board approval for the 1878 public presentation of Eadweard Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope, cassettes of Angela Davis’ lectures, Diego Rivera’s fee negotiation for his site-specific fresco, documentation of David Dashiell's seminal 1993 exhibition Queer Mysteries, and images of Mark Bradford’s first ever solo show in this same gallery.
Ghosts of the Tower is organized by the Anne Bremer Memorial Library and the Exhibitions and Public Programs department. This project is supported in part by the Institute of Museums and Library Services grant for “Digitizing the San Francisco Art Institute’s Exhibitions History.”
Rebecca Alexander, Library Technician, Special Collections Specialist
Jeff Gunderson, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist
Hesse McGraw, Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs
Katie Hood Morgan, Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Manager
Julian Wong-Nelson, Archives Assistant and Digital Specialist
SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs are made possible by the generosity of donors and sponsors. Program support is provided by the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, Institute of Museums and Library Services, Grants for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation, Creative Work Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, The Robert Lehman Foundation, Fort Point Beer Company, and Gregory Goode Photography. Ongoing support is provided by the McBean Distinguished Lecture and Residency Fund, The Buck Fund, and the Visiting Artists Fund of the SFAI Endowment.
Installation views of Jay DeFeo's Adaline Kent Award exhibition, Selected Works Past and Present, Emanuel Walter Gallery, 1984.