The Diane and Sandy Besser Collection at the de Young Museum

San Francisco, August 2007—Over the years, renowned Santa Fe collector Sandy Besser has assembled a number of collections that transcend the traditional barrier between art and craft. This fall the de Young Museum showcases the best of three of his collections: teapots, African beadwork, and contemporary drawings. No matter what the medium, the distinctive works are united by an emphasis on figurative works that engage the mind as well as the eye. Pieces in the collections illustrate how icons of contemporary culture combined with a political or social message can make a powerful artistic statement.

“The slow decline of the functional teapot in the second half of the 20th century was paralleled by the rapid rise of the studio craft teapot, which was enlisted as a foot soldier—or perhaps a Trojan Horse—in the battle to have studio craft objects perceived as art,” says Timothy Anglin Burgard, Ednah Root Curator-in-Charge of the American Art Department and co-curator of the exhibition. Kitsch and familiarity also prove to be a comforting disguise for pointed social commentary in some of the most provocative objects in the Besser collection. Jason Walker’s Bird Teapot combines naturalistic style with a grotesque subject to comment on contemporary environmental issues. An angry Ronald McDonald, addressing issues of confluence and conflict in global consumer culture, animates Bob Rose’s Bali Teapot with its bucolic scene of rural Bali.

In Africa, the beadwork of the 19th and 20th century utilizes a visual code of shape, color and iconography to comment on cultural affiliation, status, gender and age. Associate Curator of the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts, Jill D’Alessandro, writes in her essay for the catalog: “...the tiny seed bead has been an essential element of personal adornment, and each subculture has developed its own distinctive pattern of bead use. Early in its history, as a rare trade commodity, the seed bead was an indicator of wealth, prestige and status. Over time the meaning and function of the beads became increasingly more personal. What has endured is the ability of the seed bead to communicate cultural values through an encoded visual language of design, color and use.” Besser’s collection chronicles the changing role of African beadwork as both a cultural artifact and an art form. This changing role of beadwork is represented by examples from the Yoruba, Kuba and Zulu societies.

San Francisco was the site of Besser’s first art acquisition, a pair of drawings purchased for $1.50 each while he was stationed in the city as an ensign in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1960. Drawings, mostly narrative-led and subjective, have intrigued Besser ever since. Besser’s collection brings together several generations of artists and artistic ideas as it spans early 20th-century Ashcan School drawings to works from the present day. The seventy-five contemporary drawings in the exhibition depict the human figure in different ways and often incorporate narrative content to address aspects of human experience. Featured are works by established artists such as Roy De Forest, Enrique Chagoya and Joseph Piccillo, as well as emerging artists including San Francisco-based Josephine Taylor and Jonathan Solo.

The Diane and Sandy Besser Collection is co-curated by Timothy Anglin Burgard, Ednah Root Curator-in-Charge of the American Art Department, Karin Breuer, Acting Curator-in-Charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts and Jill D’Alessandro, Associate Curator of the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts. A full-color catalog accompanies the exhibition.

About Sandy Besser
“I like humor in art. I like psychological edges. I like art that makes you think,” says iconoclast Sandy Besser. A collector for over 40 years, his focus has been drawings, ceramic sculpture and vessels and art from tribal cultures. Besser is credited with being both opinionated and visionary when it comes to collecting. His fearless yet disciplined connoisseurship has benefited many unsung artists as well as those who are nationally recognized. “Besser clearly enjoys his reputation as someone who has collected outside the fashionable mainstream of ‘acceptable’ art currents and whose taste is unabashedly personal,” says Karin Breuer, Acting Curator-in-Charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts and co-curator of the exhibition.

Originally from Arkansas, Besser lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his hand-selected treasures numbering in the thousands. He was named one of the top 100 collectors in America by Art & Antiques magazine. Besser frequently curates gallery and museum exhibitions, generously loans pieces from his collection, and serves on the boards of various museums and arts organizations.

The de Young Museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, art from Central and South America, the Pacific, and Africa.

Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118

Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 9:30 am–5:15 pm. Friday 9:30 am–8:45 pm. Closed on Monday.

Café open 9:30 am–4 pm.

$10 adults; $7 seniors; $6 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D.

$5 surcharge for special exhibitions may apply. Members and children under 12 are free. The first Tuesday of every month is free.

Media contact:
Robin Wander \ 415.750.2604 \