SJMA permanent collection

History of the Collection


SJMA Exterior

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, paint on wood, 1957-1958.


The San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA), founded in 1969, is widely recognized as a leading institution in the Bay Area dedicated to the art of our time. SJMA has earned a reputation for acquiring works by pivotal artists very early in their careers; for its longstanding support of California artists; and for its commitment to the work of groundbreaking, independent thinkers.

Over the course of the Museum's history, the City of San Jose has metamorphosed from an agricultural community into the capital of Silicon Valley, a hub of innovation and global thinking. Accordingly, SJMA has expanded the scope of its collections to reflect the high-tech interests, dynamic cultural diversity, innovative spirit, and international scope of its communities.

The permanent collection includes more than 2,400 works of art: paintings, sculpture, installations, new media, photography, drawings, prints, and artist's books. SJMA has a history of attracting significant gifts of artwork from generous collectors and artists. Over 95% of the works in the collection have come to SJMA via generous donations.

The Museum's intention is to forge a collection that is distinctive from (and complementary to) that of other museums in the region. Established areas of relative strength and critical mass are:

  • -American Scene prints
  • -Mid-20th century Bay Area abstraction
  • -Figurative painting and sculpture by Bay Area artists, including the "Davis School"
  • -Representational painting
  • -New media works
  • -Socially engaged art

After the Museum's founding in 1969, SJMA's collection grew modestly over the next decade, almost exclusively through gifts from local artists and individual donors. In the late 1980s, the Museum purposefully narrowed its collecting focus to contemporary art and began to make targeted acquisitions to bring broader national and international context to the core collection of works by Bay Area artists.

The number and quality of gifts of art increased dramatically after the opening of SJMA's new wing in 1991. Some of the community's most significant collectors and Museum trustees-notably Ann Marie and Averill Mix, Katie and Drew Gibson, and Beverly and Peter Lipman-made or promised important gifts of art. Purchases increased in the late 1990s as the Collections Committee, under the leadership of Drew Gibson, began to donate funds to fuel the Museum's collecting capacity. Drew and Katie Gibson have been driving forces over the years and have donated a total of 75 works from their collection to SJMA, including an archive of 29 photographs by David Levinthal that was assembled carefully with the artist.

Kenna, Golden Gate Bridge

The permanent collection of photography received an enormous boost in 1997 with the addition of 126 images from the Arthur Goodwin Collection, which includes classic images by premier 20th-century photographers. SJMA fortified its holdings of documentary and socially engaged photography with the gift of 71 works by Bill Owens from Robert Harshorn Shimshak and Marion Brenner in 2010 and 2011 and with the gift of 38 works by Milton Rogovin from a consortium of collectors in 2012. Another large donation- the Gentry Collection of post-minimalist art, gifted in 1997-brought some 60 works by 35 emerging and mid-career artists from around the world to SJMA's holdings.

Michael Kenna, Golden Gate Bridge, SF,
Study #5,
Gelatin silver print, 1989.

One of the most important promised gifts the Museum has received is that from Dixon and Barbara Farley, of which 30 works have been donated to date. The collection ranges from abstract expressionism to pop art to post-modern geometric abstraction. In 2000, SJMA was honored to be one of three museums in the country to receive a large number of works from Los Angeles collectors Eileen and Peter Norton: 32 works by emerging artists entered the collection thanks to their generosity.

Much of the credit for the growing pace of acquisitions is due to the commitment and generosity of members of the Collections Committee (now called the Acquisitions committee), particularly under the chairmanship of trustee Peter Lipman from 1999 to 2007. The Lipman Family Foundation's support has been particularly magnanimous, both through funding major acquisitions and gifts of family works like that of Louise Nevelson's Sky Cathedral (1957). Thanks to the extraordinary support of Polly and Tom Bredt, SJMA's curators were able to fortify the historical narrative of the collection with particularly fine examples of works, such as Elmer Bischoff's Untitled (1952). Funds from the Council of 100, a membership support group, also have helped build the collection: donors participate in the selection process at the group's annual Art Pick.

Rubin and Hansen, The Listening Post

Mark Rubin and Ben Hansen, The Listening Post,
screen modules on support beam, connective wire;
8 audio speakers and software, 2002-2006.

SJMA has purchased significant, often groundbreaking new-media works from several major exhibitions, such as Jennifer Steinkamp's digital animation Fly to Mars 1 (2004) and Catherine Wagner's Pomegranate Wall (2000). The centerpiece of the new-media collection is the landmark, internationally renowned work, The Listening Post (2002-2006) by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, made possible by gifts from Deborah and Andy Rappaport and the Lipman Family Foundation. SJMA commissioned a work by Leo Villareal, 2011, subsequent to organizing the artist's first major museum show and , in 2013, purchased Doug Hall's installation Chrysopylae (2012).

Step by step over the years, through the work of many committed and extraordinarily generous individuals, SJMA's collection continues to mature into one of distinction, import, and adventurousness.