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What Will Happen to Bankrupt SFAI’s Works by Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol and Other Famed Artists?

Written by Julie ZigorisPublished Apr. 27, 2023 • 8:00am
Conservator Molly Lambert (left) reading in the Anne Bremer Memorial Library at SFAI in North Beach. | Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

While the Diego Rivera mural housed in the San Francisco Art Institute garners most of the attention—and as a masterpiece by a world-renowned artist valued at $50 million, it should—there are many lower-profile, but no-less-impressive works, owned by the venerable school, which formally filed for bankruptcy April 19. 

In the wake of the bankruptcy filing, many may be wondering what will become of the Rivera mural. But that particular piece of art enjoys protection as a designated city landmark. Other school resources, however, do not. So what will happen to the extensive collections at the institute, which houses the Anne Bremer Memorial Library

The school’s faculty and alumni include everyone from Angela Davis to Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange to Annie Leibovitz to Kehinde Wiley, Ansel Adams to Mark Rothko to Man Ray—and the library maintains materials related to notable students and faculty.  

The San Francisco Art Institute | Diana Cheng via Getty Images

The Bremer library houses archival materials related to beloved and iconic San Francisco institutions such as the Palace of Fine Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, items that would likely be impossible to replace.

Fortunately for all of us, a group of former employees of the school has banded together to create a nonprofit to ensure the materials will be preserved and remain accessible to the public—and it could use your help.

Editions in the library’s collection include rarities like artists’ books made by Yoko Ono and three-dimensional books by prominent conceptual artist Jim Pomeroy. 

There are also historic artifacts, like James Newton’s A Complete Herbal, which was printed from copper plates in 1752, and manuscripts and ephemera from students dating back to 1871. 

Inked San Franciscans would find fascinating San Francisco Art Institute alum Ed Hardy’s Tattootime, a periodical from the 1980s by the legendary tattoo artist, and photography enthusiasts would gush over a full set of Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine, Camera Work. 

Other hard-to-replace items: archival materials related to the painting of Rivera’s fresco, photographs of the school from the 1890s, publications from student groups from the 1900s until the 2020s. 

The library is also home to the offbeat and quirky, like a cookbook by Amy Vanderbilt that is illustrated by Andy Warhol and a copy of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy that spotlights the performance artist Karen Finley.

Perhaps that’s why librarians on staff were prepared to offer not only support with research but also an “actual human skull”—and why what’s listed as part of the collection is that most important of artists’ muses: dreams. 

Julie Zigoris can be reached at jzigoris@sfstandard.com


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