LETTER TO THE EDITOR
From Catherine Opie
Screenshot of the Facebook post of Catherine Opie
An Open Letter to the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Art Institute:
I am writing this letter with a great amount of sadness, not only during what has been happening throughout our country; a global pandemic, a coup by the president, but for the uncertainty for the future of art for educators and students.
These are not normal times and a great amount of reflection and action is needed among all of us. I am shocked and saddened that SFAI has put Diego Rivera’s 1931 mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, up for sale.
This is an incredibly unconscionable decision. Solely the fact that the Diego Rivera mural has become a monetary asset in the minds of the trustees; an asset thought to help the institution survive. Of course, I want SFAI to survive, but not by gutting one of the most important artworks in the history of the institution. The Diego Rivera mural has lived and inspired many generations of artists at 800 Chestnut. Quite frankly this is sickening and I am profoundly against the sale of the Diego Rivera mural, thus making my letter public.
I am a proud SFAI alum, BFA, Class of 1985. My teachers were the best of the best - instilling the drive and passion I needed to be an artist, especially an artist who bears witness with a camera documenting America. I have continued on with their inspiration in teaching for the past 30 years, 24 of them at UCLA. I have also had the honor of serving as a trustee and board member at The Hammer Museum, MOCA, The Andy Warhol Foundation, and The Mike Kelley Foundation. With this experience of being a trustee, I understand how hard decisions are to make when an institution free falls into financial crisis after financial crisis.
It is the Board of Trustees responsibility for the fiscal health of the institution. In other situations, I have seen board members reach deep into their pockets to fulfill the health of the institution and their responsibilities as trustees. It is not something that I have heard or I am aware of among the trustees of SFAI and there have been no news articles declaring the generosity of a large gift to stabilize the institution.
The strategic plan of selling the Rivera is unacceptable and this has led me to the decision to pull my piece from the upcoming auction for SFAI of Alumni artist works. The piece is a unique Surfer photograph that I was proud to give to help the institution. I can no longer be a part of a legacy that will sell off an essential unique piece of history, especially one of the importance of the site specific of a Diego Rivera mural. Artists are asked to be philanthropists; it is truly important that my work can create an ability of helping organizations with their future. The Board of Trustees has abused this in not making the gesture of donations themselves. The time is now, generosity is met with generosity. The fact that UC Regents has stepped in to pay the note and we have lost 800 Chestnut Street is a travesty. San Francisco has more millionaires and billionaires geographically than most cities in America.
I ask the board to reconsider their decision to sell the Diego Rivera mural. I also ask the board to dig deep in your own pockets in raising an endowment for the preservation of SFAI that is truly reflective of the community of philanthropists of the Bay Area. This cannot be figured out by selling such an important site-specific artwork such as Diego Rivera’s mural.