Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is a public fine arts museum with a multicultural focus, showcasing visual and textile art of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. The de Young and its sister museum, Lincoln Park’s Legion of Honor, comprise the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco partnership, which is the largest public arts institution in the city.
The de Young is San Francisco’s oldest museum. It was opened in 1895 by San Francisco Chronicle co-founder M.H. de Young to house leftover items from the previous year’s California Midwinter International Exposition, which he directed. The original location of the museum served the community for over a century, surviving several major earthquakes, including the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed significant portions of the original building structure. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused over $10 million in losses to art collections, making the prospect of housing traveling exhibitions an insurance liability, the city voted to move the museum to a new location, and the original de Young closed its doors on December 31, 1999.
After a long community battle to keep the beloved de Young alive in Golden Gate Park, a new building was constructed by acclaimed Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. The new de Young museum opened on October 15, 2005.
American Art: With more than 1,000 paintings, 800 sculptures, and 300 decorative arts works, the de Young’s American art collection is the largest collection of American art on the West Coast. Many of the museum’s paintings are donations from John D. Rockefeller’s personal art collection, acquired in 1979 and 1993. While the collection spans from the 17th century to the modern era, it places a heavy emphasis on works that are representative of America’s formative period and the culture clashes that shaped it, with many pieces by Native American, African slave, and early Gold Rush immigrant artists.
African Art, Oceanic Art, and Art of the Americas: Much of the museum’s international art collection remains intact from M. H. de Young’s original World’s Fair repository. In 1971, the museum founded the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas to ensure rich and diverse representation of non-Western works. Pieces dating as far back as the 11th century showcase the intricate handiwork and thriving culture of ancient societies, while more recent works offer commentary on the impact of colonialism, imperialism, and globalism.
Costume and Textile Arts: The de Young is known for its impressive costume and textile collection, with more than 13,000 articles of clothing produced in 125 countries. Ancient pieces date back over three millennia and showcase primitive non-woven techniques, while rare European and Asian textiles display elaborate embellishments. Of particular note is the 20th-century couture collection, featuring pieces by international style icons like Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts: The Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts oversees print works for the de Young and its sister museum, the Legion of Honor. The collection is intended to be a comprehensive study of the history of graphic design from its inception in the 15th century through the modern era. The Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, a 1996 donation to the museum, features more than 650 works of 20th-century American graphic design, showcasing popular techniques such as lithography, screenprinting, and monotype.
Photography: What began as a visual archive of images from the 1894 World’s Fair has grown today into an impressive collection of historical photographs shared between the two fine arts museums of San Francisco. Rotating photography exhibits from the partnership’s permanent collection can be seen in Gallery 12.
Ongoing Education and Artist Outreach Programs
The de Young offers a number of events and outreach programs designed to give rising San Francisco artists a platform for their unique voices. The popular Friday Nights at the de Young series features free after-hours parties showcasing local musicians, stage performers, and multimedia artists. Workshops, lectures, panel discussions, and film screenings allow artists to bring their work to life through conversation with the community. One-month residencies are rotated through the Kimball Gallery as part of the Artist Studio program, which facilitates hands-on interaction between artists and patrons. The Poets in the Gallery program brings Bay Area poets to the museum to conduct workshops with students, helping them to broaden the ways they think about and describe art.
Programs for K-12 students and beyond incorporate curriculum requirements with interactive art activities during tours led by museum docents. The Teen Museum Ambassador Program is a paid internship program that gives students from San Francisco United High Schools the opportunity to immerse themselves in the arts while facilitating classroom visits and activities for younger students. Additionally, the museum offers a number of registered courses and drop-in opportunities for youth to hone their artistic skills with professional teaching artists, including an annual summer day camp.
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118, website, Phone: 415-750-3600