Greatest Hits

The most-iconic pieces which, right now, appear to be either Femme au chapeau or Frieda and Diego Rivera. Iconic pieces are the important ones which can move merchandise and draw visitors. Important ones are the glue which hold the museum itself together.

—My aside to my Love Letter

Greatest hits of course is not the same as “most important.” Greatest hits are what museums can sell prints, catalogs, tshirts, etc. of—the “sellout” marketable side of the museum.

One of my biggest criticisms of SFMoMA over the years is that it hasn’t made its permanent collection a destination in and of itself. There’s no sense of “must-see” masterpieces which really define the museum. The temporary exhibitions are usually great. I’m disappointed when one doesn’t meet the high expectation I have. But there’s nothing that really pulls me to the museum itself—in other words, I would hesitate to send a tourist there without checking the exhibition schedule first.

This has been changing in the past couple years. One of my first posts on this blog mentioned that my opinion has been changing. Certain exhibitions since, such as the Steins Collect, have appeared to be providing context to the permanent collection as well. All very promising, especially with the Fisher Collection expansion.

I’ve been waiting for a long time for SFMoMA’s follow up to this series of tweets—mainly because I’m curious about what SFMoMA itself considers its greatest hits. It’s chosen to represent itself on Google Art Project by focusing on local artists first.* So the closest thing to a greatest hits list is what it has available for sale as a print.

*I support this point of view but am still waiting for the greatest hits to show up.

My suggestions to SFMoMA were partially serious and partially tongue in cheek.* I think SFMoMA needs to really make a claim as the hispanic/latino modern art museum. It was involved with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the beginning yet the iconic portrait of the two of them is rarely on permanent display. Similarly, the Bay Area has such a rich photographic history that not including many of the iconic images from local photographers seems like a huge missed opportunity.

*as is my wont.

But I was also being silly. Erased de Kooning is a nod to my love letter. It’s a hugely important piece but it’s certainly not something mass-marketable. The  Kasese Chair is a similar suggestion. For a while SFMoMA had a major chair fetish thing going on on the second floor and that piece was one of what they claimed was the most important parts of that collection. It seems to have been forgotten today.

With the planned expansion, I’m hoping that it means that there will be more room for the permanent collection and a better opportunity to create some “greatest hits” which every visitor to San Francisco feels compelled to see.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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