An SFMOMA Curator on Innovation and California Design

SFMOMA is a museum of many firsts. In 1935, it opened as the first museum on the West Coast to showcase solely 20th-century art; in 1983, SFMOMA was crowned as the first West Coast museum to formally establish a department of architecture and design; and this week, as FOG Design+Art is inaugurated as San Francisco’s premier modernism fair, SFMOMA was, of course, involved. As proceeds from the fair will benefit the museum, we spoke to Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher of SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design department about the museum’s collection, their requirements for new acquisitions, and why California Design—recently shown in LACMA’s “California design, 1930–1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way’” and Pasadena Museum of California Art’s “Greta Magnusson Grossman: A Car and Some Shorts”—has become a buzzword we’re happy to embrace.

Artsy: Can you describe a few highlights of SFMOMA’s architecture and design collection?

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher: I find the museum as a significant holding of experimental and conceptual architecture and design from the 1970s to present, which includes works by architects Lebbeus Woods, Neil Denari, Diller & Scofidio and R&Sie, as well as furniture from Memphis designers Nathalie du Pasquier and Shiro Kuramata, early Droog designs, and important Bay Area works by Ant Farm, Hartmut Esslinger, Yves Behar, and Jack Stauffacher.

Artsy: What is your criteria for new acquisitions, and how do you differentiate yourselves from other design collections in the United States?

JDF: The Bay Area is known for its innovation, experimentation, and questioning norms. When thinking about new works for the collection, we consider the Bay Area perspective and whether a work aligns or is juxtaposed with that position.

Artsy: How would you describe California Design? And why do you think it has been of such interest in the past few years?

JDF: California designers have contributed some of the most significant works of design of the past century. Southern California designers shaped the earlier part of the century by applying a modern ethos to design, creating opportunities to shed traditions and traditional architecture and design, and to easily adopt a modern lifestyle. In the latter half of the century, there is a shift to Northern California, where countercultural idealism starts to percolate into Silicon Valley, where design is needed to guide and translate the work of engineers. Apple was one of the first computer companies to recognize the value of design.

Artsy: What advice would you give your friends who’d like to begin their own collection (and not just “buy what you love”)?

JDF: For anyone who is interested in collecting, design is a great place to start. It’s affordable and usually functional. Paying more attention to the objects encountered daily creates an awareness of environment, which gets honed over time. Eventually, one becomes attuned to subtleties and histories as interest grows. One of the best ways to learn about design is to become involved with a museum that exhibits and collects work of interest. At SFMOMA, there are several art and design interest groups that meet regularly for studio visits, curatorial talks and presentations, and conversations between designers and artists. These groups provide education and opportunities to share an existing or emerging passion.

Explore FOG Design+Art on Artsy.