SFMOMA Draws Major Donation From Legendary SF Art Collectors

Norman and Norah Stone are seen in 2012 with Pat Lenz’s “Nobody’s Poodle” at their San Francisco home. Photo: Russell Yip/The Chronicle

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has received a major gift from the estate of San Francisco philanthropists and art collectors Norman Stone and Norah Sharpe Stone. In one of the largest donations in the institution’s 87-year history, nearly 350 works by artists including Marcel Duchamp, Diane Arbus, Carrie Mae Weems, Jeff Koons, Danh Vo, Sarah Lucas, Bruce Nauman, Hans Bellmer and Ai Weiwei will become part of the museum’s permanent collections, SFMOMA announced on Thursday (March 3).

“They had been very clear that they wanted to keep their collection intact as much as possible,” Amy Stone, Norman’s daughter, told The Chronicle. “They had a strong commitment to SFMOMA and they had a deep belief that art made a difference in their lives. We’ve talked a lot about how as a collector you are the custodian of a coin and it ultimately belongs to the public.

Also part of the donation is an unrestricted bequest of $10 million by the Stones, who both died aged 81 just 19 months apart. The Norah and Norman Stone Fund for Contemporary Art Exhibitions will be dedicated to supporting future contemporary art exhibitions and collection presentations.

Andy Warhol, “Six Oxidation Paintings”, 1978; from the estate of Norah and Norman Stone. Photo: Photo: © Andy Warhol

“I can’t think of a better way to honor Norah and Norman,” said SFMOMA director Neal Benezra. “Having an endowment fund that we can draw on in perpetuity to support contemporary exhibitions in the future is simply an amazing opportunity for the museum. It will give us a sort of programming freedom that is welcome and will really (enhance) our contemporary mission.

The first two exhibitions funded by the Stone donation – “Shifting the Silence”, which will feature 32 female artists, and “Speculative Portraits”, which will explore how science and technology inform notions of human identity – are scheduled to open on 9 April.

The museum will take possession of the collection on March 15 after acceptance of the donation by the SFMOMA board of directors. The Stones’ works will be incorporated into exhibits on the second and fifth floors beginning this summer, chief curator Janet Bishop said.

Norman Stone is seen in 2012 in the dressing room of his San Francisco home while playing with the family dog, Bodhi. Anne Collier’s work is titled “Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel)” and dates from 2007. Photo: Russell Yip/The Chronicle

Highlights of the donation include Duchamp’s sculptures ‘Object-dard’ and ‘Feuille de Vigne Feminine’; “Six Oxidation Paintings” by Andy Warhol; the photograph “Bo” by Catherine Opie; and Ai Weiwei’s “Fairytale Chairs” concept sculpture.

“Works in the Stone Collection add both depth and breadth to SFMOMA’s holdings,” said Bishop. “I am thinking in particular of artists, most of whom emerged in the 1980s or early 1990s and became among the most important artists of their generation, such as Matthew Barney, Cady Noland, Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, Jack Pierson , Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark.

The Stones were a well-known presence in the art world and strong supporters of SFMOMA. Norman became a museum trustee in 1991 and remained in that role until his death in 2021. Norah served as a trustee from 2009 until his death in 2019 from cancer.

Every year between 1995 and 2019, the couple made it onto ARTnews’ Top 200 Collectors list. With a penchant for avant-garde fashion from experimental Japanese and Belgian designers, they were a playful presence at company galas and art previews. In a 2006 Chronicle article, journalist Carolyne Zinko called the pair “modern-day Nick and Nora Charles,” after the socialite sleuths in Dashiell Hammett’s novel “The Thin Man.”

Norah Stone is seen in 2012 in one of her closets in her San Francisco home. . Photo: Russell Yip/The Chronicle

Norman Stone was the son of Combined Insurance Co. founder W. Clement Stone, whose business was valued at $2 billion at the time of his death in 2002. He worked as a venture capitalist before pursuing a career as a psychologist, volunteering as a counsellor. at 4301 Family Center in Hunters Point beginning in 1980.

Norah Stone worked as a corporate lawyer before marrying Norman in 1986. The couple began collecting art in the 1980s. Amy Stone recalls an early studio visit with her father around this time at a then-promising artist whom the Stones continued to collect, Richard Prince. The couple lived with their collection at their Pacific Heights home (where a Christmas tree sculpture by Philippe Parreno was on display year-round) and at Stonescape, their Calistoga estate with its famous carved-out “art cave” in a hill to display additional works. .

“Untitled Film Still #27” by Cindy Sherman in 1980, from the estate of Norah and Norman Stone. Photo: © Cindy Sherman / SFMOMA

In the 2006 Chronicle story, Norman Stone said his experiences as a counselor dealing with psychological and social issues informed his taste for contemporary art. It was literal in the case of “Tell Me Everything,” a 1989 serigraph by Prince that references a visit to a psychiatrist in its text.

“None of us were interested in collecting ‘pretty pictures,'” Norah Stone said in the same post.

The giveaway comes as SFMOMA enters a new chapter after two years of turmoil related to the coronavirus pandemic, staff departures and program cuts. In June, Benezra will step down as director after 20 years and will be replaced by Baltimore Museum of Art director Christopher Bedford.

Richard Prince’s 1989 “Tell Me Everything” comes from the estate of Norah and Norman Stone. Photo: © Richard Prince / SFMOMA

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