The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Lands a Major Gift of Work by Black American Artists From Pamela Joyner and Alfred Giuffrida

The donated works are primarily by artists born before 1930.

Pamela Joyner. Photo: Drew Altizer.
Pamela Joyner. Photo: Drew Altizer.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is having a very good week. Just a few days after re-opening, following more than three months of a second lockdown, the museum has announced a landmark gift of 31 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by 20 American artists from the prestigious Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida Collection, known for its extensive focus on abstract work made by artists of the African diaspora.

The historical collection of work, by artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, and Richard Mayhew, “has inspired a reexamination of SFMOMA’s permanent collection and is having a transformative impact on its galleries,” the museum said in a statement.

The gift is comprised “virtually exclusively of artists born prior to 1930 and is meant to help fill gaps in that earlier history, and also to serve as a catalyst to encourage SFMOMA and its patrons to continue the good work that has been done to date,” Joyner told Artnet News in an email.

Elizabeth Catlett, Singing Head, (1968); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS); photo: David Heald

Elizabeth Catlett, Singing Head, (1968); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS); photo: David Heald.

The gift provides a significant boost to the institution’s efforts to diversify its collection. In 2019, the museum deaccessioned a painting by Mark Rothko to raise $50 million to fund more diverse acquisitions. It has since acquired 91 works by Black artists (including 55 that it purchased) in the past fiscal year.

Outgoing director Neal Benezra said the museum is “thrilled by this generous and transformative gift,” noting that the works will “allow us to present a richer, more expansive picture of art history.”

Loïs Mailou Jones, Peasants at Kenscoff, (1955); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Loïs Mailou Jones; photo: Ian Reeves

Loïs Mailou Jones, Peasants at Kenscoff, (1955); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Loïs Mailou Jones; photo: Ian Reeves

Among the highlights are Catlett’s Cabeza Cantando (Singing Head) (1968), a patinated bronze sculpture showing a woman with her head thrown back and her mouth open in song, and Lois Mailout Jones’s Peasants at Kenscoff (1955), depicting a group of people gathered near a commune in Port-Au-Prince, where rural farmers gathered weekly to sell their goods at market.

Joyner, who has been collecting art for more than two decades, became an SFMOMA trustee in January 2020. She said that the decision to donate the works came after she had “observed various museums increasing their commitments to a more inclusive art-historical narrative. It was easier to fill gaps in art being produced today but more challenging to go backwards in time.”

Hughie Lee-Smith, Two Boys, (1968); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Hughie Lee-Smith/ARS (Artist Rights Society), New York; photo: Ian Reeves

Hughie Lee-Smith, Two Boys, (1968); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Hughie Lee-Smith/ARS (Artist Rights Society), New York; photo: Ian Reeves.

Prior to becoming a trustee, Joyner worked for nearly a decade with former chief curator Gary Garrels to help SFMOMA diversify its collection. “We gave the museum a number of gifts initiated by Gary’s research and collection planning,” including works by Njiedeka Akunyili Crosby, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, and Robert Colescott. 

Garrels resigned last summer amid an uproar over comments he made about the direction of the museum’s collecting efforts, Including that the museum would continue to buy works by white artists.

Richard Mayhew, Perennial Sentinel, (2000); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Richard Mayhew; photo: Katherine Du Tiel, courtesy SFMOMA

Richard Mayhew, Perennial Sentinel, (2000); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Richard Mayhew; photo: Katherine Du Tiel, courtesy SFMOMA

Visitors will be able to see the newly gifted works throughout the entire museum.

Joyner and her husband have a collection of around 400 works, and they add about 25 to 30 each year, she said. For the donation, they selected works created by the first of what is now five generations of artists in their collection, all of whom “touched on common themes in a way that it made sense to donate the work as a group.”

Herbert Gentry, Activity, 1975; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Herbert Gentry; photo: Katherine Du Tiel, courtesy SFMOMA

Herbert Gentry, Activity, 1975; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection; © Estate of Herbert Gentry; photo: Katherine Du Tiel, courtesy SFMOMA

The artists were also all “written out of mid-century modernist history only because they were Black,” Joyner said in a statement. “What I want visitors to take away is that there were people of color not only working in the field, but defining the character of the movement at that time.”


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