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PRIDE! Grace McCann Morley

Celebrating June PRIDE


Grace McCann Morley was the first director of the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA). She had a HUGE influence on art in San Francisco and in the museum world.  Morley's office, while awaiting the 1935 completion of the Museum at Van Ness and McAllister, was at the School on Russian Hill where she also taught and lectured. Morley had an enormous impact on local artists---for instance, noted post-WW2 Director of the School, Douglas MacAgy, had been hired by Morley at the Museum as a curator in 1941 where one of his first assignments was organizing a  300 piece group show of the School’s alumni.  

Morley brought influential exhibits to the SFMA—shows from the NYMOMA like Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1937), Cubism and Abstract Art (1936) and she orchestrated the first public showing of Picasso’s Guernica in 1939 just as war was breaking out in Europe.  Morley organized a wide range of her own ground breaking shows on Edward Weston, Gauguin, and Matisse as well as the first solo exhibitions of Arshile Gorky (’41), Clyfford Still (’43), and Jackson Pollock (’45) . With the help of Ansel Adams, Morley pioneered fine art photography exhibitions, as well as screened avant-garde films, had jazz in the Museum, and kept the Museum open until 10 pm SIX DAYS A WEEK! She exhibited a wide range of Bay Area Artists—getting together as many as 70-100 shows a year! Morley truly “laid the groundwork that made SF a progressive cultural center in the world.”

Art Historian Berit Potter writes: “There is no doubt that Morley was characterized as different, not only because of her style of dress, passion for sports, and alleged difficult demeanor, but also her taste in art. Morley’s desire to represent lesser-known artists, particularly women and individuals working on the West Coast, inspired her to create an exhibition schedule that radically departed from exhibitions on the East Coast….She organized many one-woman shows annually while MoMA in New York did not present its first one-woman show until 1942.”

For Berit Potter’s essay, “GMM: Defending and Diversifying Modern Art”: https://www.sfmoma.org/essay/grace-mccann-morley-defending-and-diversifying-modern-art/

And Kara Kirk’s “GMM and the Modern Museum”:https://www.sfmoma.org/essay/grace-mccann-morley-and-modern-museum/


With permission, SFAA is re-posting the emails Jeff Gunderson Librarian/Archivist Anne Bremer Memorial Library has been sending out since March 2020. Please enjoy this magnificent archive.



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