Just as the revitalized San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is set to open its new doors for the first time, the organization’s top photography curator, Sandra Phillips, will step down from the position.
Phillips has brought a critical eye and astute thinking to the museum over her decades-long career there. Now, she is set to retire on June 30th, opening the position to someone new who wants to contribute to the museum’s legacy.
Phillips first joined the museum in 1987 as its head of photographs. Ten years later, she was promoted to senior curator, and her time in that position was well spent, adding more than 200 exhibitions through gifts and purchases.
When the new museum opens next month, it will offer many new works of art, including donations from local art collectors like Thomas Weisel, as well as one of the largest photography exhibits in the world, the Pritzker Center.
“It is certainly difficult for us, the museum’s audience, to imagine the department without her,” SFGate writes. “With a quiet and generous manner, Phillips…has built a circle of devoted supporters—people who have given works of art worth many millions of dollars, and exhibition funding to match.”
Phillips, a lover of the photograph’s history, holds a long record of exhibitions and publications under her name. She admits that she’s more interested in the art history of photography than in “cutting edge” contemporary work, with a focus on artists Helen Levitt, John Gutmann, Wright Morris, and Daido Moriyama.
Phillips spent years choosing extraordinary works from these photographers and others, bringing many that might otherwise have been forgotten to the public eye.
While her decision to leave the museum must not have been easy, Phillips says that the museum “needs somebody new—newer and younger” to meet the new building, someone who is perhaps more interested in the ways photography has changed over the years.
The museum will certainly be sad to see her go, but the excellent devotion and skills she brought to the museum will still be felt even in its new buildings.