During his lifetime, Gap founder Donald Fisher was rightfully heralded as a visionary and an entrepreneur of the highest caliber – someone who turned a single store on San Francisco's outskirts into a billion-dollar operation that, under the “Gap,” “Old Navy” and other retail names, employs more than 100,000 people and sells valued clothing to millions around the world. Fisher also had his detractors, especially among hard-core liberals, who said the Gap's use of cheap factories abroad – and Fisher's relatively conservative politics – undermined the retailer's reputation for items of good value. In May of 2009, four months before Fisher passed away from cancer, one critic bashed the Gap founder's formidable art collection, saying it symbolized corporations' stranglehold over the world's art market. What does Fisher's art collection say about him and corporate America?
This is one of the questions that inevitably arises at the dramatic exhibit opening Friday at SFMOMA. “Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection” offers a stunning taste of Donald and Doris Fisher's 1,100-plus holdings. For more than 30 years, the Warhols, Calders, and other priceless art that Fisher and his wife collected were only available to a select audience: Those who knew the Fishers, or those who were invited to the Gap's headquarters, where much of the art resided. Three years ago, Donald Fisher campaigned to house the work at a new museum he would build in the Presidio, but when opponents derailed those plans, Fisher worked out an agreement with SFMOMA to bring the collection there. Eventually, a new building will hold the artwork. For now, the museum's top two floors are devoted to a portion of the lifelong collection, which – for its depth and historical importance – is as valuable as any private collection known in the world. All told, the paintings, sculptures, prints and other items owned by the Fisher family may be worth in excess of $1 billion.