The de Young, is a fine arts museum located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, along with the Legion of Honor. The de Young Museum has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the city and a cherished destination for millions of residents and visitors to the region for over 100 years.
On October 15, 2005, the de Young Museum re-opened in a state-of-the-art new facility that integrates art, architecture and the natural landscape in one multi-faceted destination that will inspire audiences from around the world. Designed by the renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco, the new de Young provided San Francisco with a landmark art museum to showcase the museum’s priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, Textile arts, and art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
The de Young is named for its founder, early San Francisco newspaperman Max Hollein de Young. Since June 1, 2016, Max Hollein has served as the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, overseeing the de Young and Legion of Honor museums.
The de Young Museum originated as the Fine Arts Building, which was constructed in Golden Gate Park for the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. The chair of the exposition organizing committee was Michael H. de Young, co-founder of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Fine Arts Building was designed in a pseudo–Egyptian Revival style and decoratively adorned with images of Hathor, the cow goddess. Following the exposition, the building was designated as a museum for the people of San Francisco. Over the years, the de Young has grown from an attraction originally designed to temporarily house an eclectic collection of exotic oddities and curiosities to the foremost museum in the western United States concentrating on American art, international textile arts and costumes, and art of the ancient Americas, Oceania and Africa.
The new Memorial Museum was a success from its opening on March 25, 1895. No admission was charged, and most of what was on display had been acquired from the exhibits at the exposition. Eleven years after the museum opened, the great earthquake of 1906 caused significant damage to the Midwinter Fair building, forcing a year-and-a-half closure for repairs.
Before long, the museum’s steady development called for a new space to better serve its growing audiences. Michael de Young responded by planning the building that would serve as the core of the de Young Museum facility through the 20th century. Louis Christian Mulgardt, the coordinator for architecture for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, designed the Spanish-Plateresque-style building. It was completed in 1919 and formally transferred by de Young to the city’s park commissioners. In 1921, de Young added a central section, together with the tower that would become the museum’s signature feature, and the museum began to assume the basic configuration that it retained until 2001. Michael de Young’s great efforts were honored with the changing of the museum’s name to the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. Yet another addition, a west wing, was completed in 1925, the year de Young died. Just four years later, the original Egyptian-style building was declared unsafe and demolished. By the end of the 1940s, the elaborate cast concrete ornamentation of the original de Young was determined to be a hazard and removed because the salt air from the Pacific had rusted the supporting steel.
In the mid-1960s, following Avery Brundage’s bequest of his magnificent Asian art collection, the Brundage wing was constructed, thereafter altering the museum’s orientation toward the Japanese Tea Garden, another remnant of the 1894 Midwinter Fair. In 1994 city voters overwhelmingly supported a bond measure to renovate the former San Francisco Main Library as the new home of the Asian Art Museum. Architect Gae Aulenti—widely recognized for adapting historic structures into museum spaces—was chosen as the design architect for the new facility. The Asian art collection remained open to the public at the de Young until October 2001, when it closed in preparation for the move. In November 2003 it re-opened its doors to the public at its new Civic Center location as an independent museum.
In 1989 the de Young suffered significant structural damage as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Fine Arts Museums’ board of trustees completed a project that braced the museum as a temporary measure until a long-term solution could be implemented. For the next several years, the board actively sought solutions to the de Young’s structural jeopardy and solicited feedback from throughout the community, conducting numerous visitor surveys and public workshops.
With extensive public input, the board initiated a process to plan and build a privately financed institution as a philanthropic gift to the city, in the tradition of M. H. de Young. An open architectural selection process took place from 1998 to 1999. The board endorsed a museum concept plan in October 1999, and a successful multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign was initiated under the leadership of board president Diane B. Wilsey.
The current building was completed by architects Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Fong + Chan and opened on October 15, 2005. Structural, civil and geotechnical engineering was provided by Rutherford & Chekene; Arup provided mechanical and electrical engineering. Herzog & de Meuron won the competition in January 1999 beating out other short-listed architects Tadao Ando and Antoine Predock. The terrain and seismic activity in San Francisco posed a challenge for the designers Herzog & de Meuron and principal architects Fong & Chan. To help withstand future earthquakes, “[the building] can move up to three feet (91 centimeters) due to a system of ball-bearing sliding plates and viscous fluid dampers that absorb kinetic energy and convert it to heat”.
A new museum structure located in the middle of an urban park was initially controversial. San Francisco voters twice defeated bond measures that were to fund the new museum project. After the second defeat, the museum itself planned to relocate to a location in the financial district. However, an effort led by generous supporters arose and kept the museum in the Golden Gate Park.
The designers were sensitive to the appearance of the building in its natural setting. Walter Hood, a landscape architect based in Oakland, designed the museum’s new gardens. The entire exterior is clad in 163,118 sq ft (15,154.2 m2) of copper, which is expected to eventually oxidize and take on a greenish tone and a distinct texture to echo the nearby eucalyptus trees. In order to further harmonize with the surroundings, shapes were cut into the top to reveal gardens and courtyards where 48 trees had been planted, the giant tree-ferns that form a backdrop for the museum entrance are particularly dramatic. 5.12 acres (20,700 square meters) of new landscaping were planted as well, with 344 transplanted trees and 69 historic boulders. The building is clad with variably perforated and dimpled copper plates, whose patina will slowly change through exposure to the elements. This exterior facade was developed and fabricated by engineers at Zahner. A 144 ft. (44 m) observation tower allows visitors to see much of Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse (see below) and rises above the Park’s treetops providing a view of the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands.
The twisting 144 foot (44 m) tall tower is a distinctive feature, and can be seen rising above the canopy of Golden Gate Park from many areas of San Francisco. The museum offers a two-floor museum store, free access to the lobby and tower, and a full-service cafe with outdoor seating in the Osher Sculpture Garden. The executive chef is Lance Holton.
The resulting design by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron weaves the museum into the natural environment of the park. It also provides open and light-filled spaces that facilitate and enhance the art-viewing experience. Historic elements from the former de Young, such as the sphinxes, the original palm trees, and the Pool of Enchantment, have been retained or reconstructed at the new museum. The former de Young Museum structure closed to the public on December 31, 2000. The new de Young opened on October 15, 2005.
Constructed of warm, natural materials including copper, stone, wood and glass, the new de Young blends with and complements its natural surroundings. Ribbons of windows erase the boundary between the museum interior and the lush natural environment outside, and four public entrances segue naturally from the park’s pathways, welcoming visitors from all directions.
The building’s dramatic copper facade is perforated and textured to replicate the impression made by light filtering through a tree canopy, creating an artistic abstraction on the exterior of the museum that resonates with the de Young’s tree-filled park setting. The building’s copper skin, chosen for its changeable quality through oxidation, will assume a rich patina over time that will blend gracefully with the surrounding natural environment.
The northeast corner of the building features a 144-foot tower that gently spirals from the ground floor and aligns at the top with the grid formed by the streets of the Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods surrounding the park. A public observation floor offers panoramic views of the entire Bay Area.
The outdoor environment of the new de Young features a public sculpture garden and terrace beneath a cantilevered roof; a children’s garden; and landscaping that creates an organic link between the building and the surrounding environment on all four sides. The landscape design integrates historic elements from the old de Young—including the sphinx sculptures, the Pool of Enchantment, and the original palm trees—as well as sandstone, redwood, ferns and other plants and materials relevant to the site, creating a museum that is permeable, open, and inviting to the public.
The de Young showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. Colossal cracked stones, a three-piece ball gown, a spirit figure, a work created from charcoal retrieved from a church destroyed by arson. Our collections—encompassing American paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts; modern and contemporary art; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and textile arts—reflect an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods.
The de Young’s American art collection, spanning from the 17th century to the present day, is the most comprehensive survey collection of American art in the American West, and is among the top 10 collections nationally that encompass the entire history of non-indigenous American art. The acquisition of the distinguished Rockefeller Collection, along with later gifts and purchases, transformed the American art collection into a true national treasure, as well as a significant cultural and educational resource for both residents and tourists.
The art on view spans four centuries and includes objects created by Native American cultures, subsequent immigrants, enslaved Africans, and their descendants. Many of these cultures clashed over their differing visions of America’s past, present, and future, while also borrowing and sharing ideas from each other. This historical diversity and complexity has led to the creation of many hybrid art objects that are among the defining features of culture in the United States.
The breadth and depth of the American art collection enables visitors to explore many of the most influential developments in American art and history. These objects reflect both the personal visions of the artists and the collective concerns of their communities. The juxtaposition of old objects with newer ones in the galleries is intended to foster a dialogue between the past and the present, and to remind viewers that cultural ideas can transcend the artwork’s time and place of origin.
The Katharine Hanrahan American Art Study Center and the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art microfilm collection are both available to researchers with a specific focus of study by appointment only.
Founding pieces in the collection were purchased from the California International Midwinter Exposition in 1894. From that moment, the de Young’s collections of African art, like those of most major American museums, grew in a random fashion rather than by design—enriched in part by purchases, but mostly by donations from entrepreneurs, travelers, educators, and even Peace Corps volunteers. Research about their histories is ongoing.
Since 1971, when the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas was founded, the collection has been developed to present the richness and diversity of art from sub-Saharan Africa. A few works extend back to the great civilizations of Africa, including the kingdoms of Mali, Ghana, and Songye, which maintained major commercial centers and corresponding trade routes. At the entrance of the gallery, visitors will find the oldest wood sculpture in the collection, probably commemorating a great ancestor, dated to at least the 13th century. Nearby, an ancient maternity figure from Mali made of terracotta might also represent a legendary or founding ancestor.
Most of the collection dates from the 19th century through the mid-20th century, when tremendous political, economic, and religious change impacted art and culture in many societies through colonialism, imperialism, war, and globalism. A large case in the center of the gallery includes stools, a form of seating common in many culture groups; they are expertly crafted to be functional but also expressive in form and decoration. Chairs were introduced by Europeans and then adapted and adorned in local styles, such as the highly decorated royal chair from Ghana.
The de Young has exhibited Oceanic art since its opening in 1895. M. H. de Young and museum supporters purchased works from the California International Midwinter Exposition that still form the core of the Oceanic collection. The strength of this charter collection lay in small groups of objects, including important New Zealand Maori woodcarvings from meetinghouses of that period, as well as in singular works of importance, such as a rare Micronesian figurative weather charm.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, San Franciscans traveled in the Pacific and donated additional Oceanic works from such island groups as New Ireland, New Britain, and the Admiralty Islands. In 1930 the de Young received more than 70 works, including Trobriand Island carvings and Indonesian textiles, from Charles Templeton Crocker, who cruised around the South Pacific and the world on his yacht, Zaca. Through the recent generosity of Helen and Robert Kuhn, Georgia Sales, and George and Marie Hecksher, the de Young can now boast a nationally important collection of Indonesian carvings, particularly architectural fragments from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art includes numerous individual works considered of great importance to the corpus of New Guinea art. Many are from the Sepik Province, known for its diverse and exceptional art forms. But the broad-based collection also represents the hundreds of clans and art-producing villages throughout the island of New Guinea. Each work in this extraordinary collection has multivalent stories to share with future generations of visitors and scholars at the de Young.
Art of the Americas
The Art of the Americas collection provides unique perspectives into cultures and civilizations that thrived in the Western hemisphere long before the Spanish conquest. Most objects in these collections date between 200 BC and the mid-16th century AD, with a strong focus in Mesoamerican and Andean art. Almost all of these ancient arts were used in religious or funerary contexts. As a result of the historic Harald Wagner bequest, the de Young is home to the largest and most important group of Teotihuacan murals outside of Mexico. Additional highlights from the Art of the Americas include Maya and West Mexico artworks generously donated by Gail and Alec Merriam and the Lewis K. Land family; an extraordinary bequest of exemplary Inuit and Eskimo art from the Thomas G. Fowler collection; and pueblo pottery from the Paul E. and Barbara H. Weiss collection.
The Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection is an extraordinary anthology of Native American art spanning nearly a thousand years of artistic production, from 11th-century Mimbres ceramics to 19th-century baskets and pots by recognized artists such as the Hopi-Tewa artist Nampeyo, as well as additional masterworks of Navajo weaving. This significant gift allows the de Young to present a comprehensive survey of Native American art with a distinctly Western focus, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the American Southwest. Included in the collection are more than 50 objects made by artists working in the Mimbres ceramic tradition, practiced from roughly AD 1000 to 1150; Navajo blankets—including two rare first-phase examples (ca. 1820s‒50s)—and several classic-period Navajo serapes; major pieces of monumental Northwest Coast art; and the first Plains ledger drawings to enter the Museums’ permanent holdings.
Costume and Textile Arts
The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts contains more than 13,000 textiles and costumes from traditions around the world. A remarkable range of techniques is represented, including loom-woven textiles; nonwoven fabrics, such as bark cloth, felt, and knitting; and objects embellished with beading and embroidery.
Highlights from the collection include extraordinary Turkmen carpets, rare 12th- through 15th-century Central Asian and North Indian silks, the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey, European tapestries, exquisite ecclesiastical textiles, and contemporary Bay Area fiber art. Since the 1930s the de Young has been known for its 20th-century couture, particularly from the post–World War II era, with outstanding pieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Madame Grés, and Yves Saint Laurent.
With holdings that span nearly three millennia and represent cultures from 125 countries, the textile arts collection enables the Museums to draw connections across cultures and enrich other areas of the permanent collection. Throughout the year the Lonna and Marshall Wais and Diana Dollar Knowles and Gorham B. Knowles costume and textile arts gallery hosts several exhibitions, featuring the diverse range of these collections, as well as important traveling exhibitions.
In addition to the larger rotating textiles presentations in the main gallery, the T. B. Walker Family Education Gallery houses small, didactic displays and contains study drawers illustrating representative pieces from the entire collection, highlighting different textile techniques. The Joan Diehl McCauley Study Center is available to researchers with a specific focus of study by appointment only.
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts
The Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts (AFGA) is the department responsible for the Fine Arts Museums’ collection of works of art on paper: prints, drawings, and artists’ books. Selections from the collection are exhibited in rotating exhibitions in specially designated galleries at the de Young and the Legion of Honor, while the remainder of the collection is stored in the department’s state-of-the-art facilities at the Legion of Honor, along with the Museums’ collection of photography. Much of the collection is available for viewing at the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Study Center.
The department is named for Moore and Hazel Achenbach, who gave the bulk of their collection to the city of San Francisco in 1948, and the remainder upon Moore Achenbach’s death in 1963. When they formed the collection, the Achenbachs intended that it would systematically illustrate the entire development of the graphic arts, from the 15th century to the present day. Through gifts, purchases, and the generous support of additional donors, curators of the AFGA have worked steadily over the years to realize this goal, filling in gaps and moving the collection forward into the 21st century. Many of the additional acquisitions form the basis for special collections within the department, such as the Anderson Collection of Graphic Arts, the Reva and David Logan Collection of Artist Illustrated Books, significant holdings of Japanese prints, theater- and dance-related materials, and an important group of Works Project Administration (WPA) prints and drawings allocated by the Federal Art Project. The department is also the repository of a number of archives, including the archive of the Bay Area’s Crown Point Press and the graphic works of the Los Angelesbased artist Ed Ruscha. Today, with more than 90,000 works of art, the AFGA is the largest repository of works of art on paper in the western United States.
The photography collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco spans the entire history of the medium, with particular strength in 19th-century American and European photography. The de Young accepted photographs into its collection during its earliest years, starting with documentary scenes of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The collection also includes large concentrations of historical California photographs, with many views of the Bay Area, as well as a significant holding of daguerreotype portraits.
The Legion of Honor also amassed historical photographs prior to merging with the de Young. The Legion’s most important acquisition was its purchase in 1943 of negatives and prints by Arnold Genthe representing San Francisco in the immediate aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. After the two institutions were combined to form the Fine Arts Museums in 1972, the photography holdings were united at the Legion within the Museums’ department of works on paper, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Among the photographers represented in depth are Imogen Cunningham, John Gutmann, Eadweard Muybridge, Bill Owens, Ed Ruscha, David Seymour (Chim), and Arthur Siegel.
Photography is intermittently displayed at both the de Young and the Legion of Honor. At the de Young, Gallery 12 is dedicated to rotating exhibitions of photography, primarily from the permanent collection.
The de Young has commissioned several leading contemporary artists, including Gerhard Richter, James Turrell, Andy Goldsworthy, and Kiki Smith to create site-specific works for the new building.
For the de Young German artist Gerhard Richter has produced a large-scale mural from digitally manipulated photographs that together form a geometric black-and-white motif. The monumental piece, titled Strontium, is constructed of 130 digital prints mounted on aluminum with Plexiglas coating. It is installed in Wilsey Court, the central public gathering space of the new de Young.
California artist James Turrell has created a “Skyspace” for the museum’s Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden. Three Gems, Turrell’s first “Skyspace” in the form of a stupa or dome, is built into a hill within the garden and features a view of the sky altered by lighting effects that will change with light and weather conditions outside.
A third commission by Andy Goldsworthy takes its inspiration from the unique character of California’s tectonic topography. Goldsworthy has created a continuous crack running north from the edge of the Music Concourse roadway in front of the museum, up the main walkway, into the exterior courtyard, and to the main entrance door. Along its path, this crack bisects — and cleaves in two — large rough-hewn stone slabs that serve as seating for museum visitors.
Kiki Smith’s large-scale sculpture, a gift of Dorothy and George Saxe and the Friends of New Art, reinterprets David, Joanna, and Abigail Mason (1670) attributed to the Freake-Gibbs Painter from the de Young’s American Paintings Collection. Elements of the piece also evoke the unconventional layout and dramatic copper skin of new de Young.
Experience an unforgettable and immersive view of de Young Museum’s special exhibition tour guests skip the lines and are led by a dedicated expert docent through a customized tour. Gain an insider’s view of the special exhibition and an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy the art on view.
According to The Art Newspaper (April 2012), the new museum is the most visited art museum west of the Mississippi, the sixth-most-visited art museum in North America, and the 35th-most visited in the world. Housed in a state-of-the-art, accessible, and architecturally significant facility, it provides valuable art experiences to generations of residents and visitors.