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The Art Bank

The San Francisco Art Institute (previously the California School of Fine Arts, renamed in 1961) was established in 1871 as the San Francisco Art Association. The Institute was composed of one of the nation's oldest art schools, an art association, and one of the country's most vital. 

In 1927 the art association moved to its present location on Russian Hill at Chestnut and Jones Streets. By 1966 the San Francisco Art Association ceased to exist.


In 1958 The Art Bank of the San Francisco Art Association was established with funds from a Rockefeller Foundation Grant. The purpose of The Art Bank was to make available the creative works of artists on the West Coast to the broadest possible audience. It created this service by publishing a catalog that included biographies and reproductions of the work of over 160 West Coast artists who had exhibited in the 1958 San Francisco Art Association Artist Member's Exhibition held at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco. All of the members were required to meet rigorous standards of achievement before acceptance into the San Francisco Art Association.

The Art Bank Catalog
Art Bank 64/66 Catalog
Published by the Art Association of the San Francisco Art Institute

In 1959 a second Art Bank catalog (1959-60) was published, consisting of the 1959 San Francisco Art Association Artist Member's Exhibition held at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 1960, The San Francisco Art Association sponsored a special exhibition titled "Contemporary Art, 1960," consisting of 139 artists from all over the west who had exhibited in at least three or more nationally important group exhibitions. Each member was allowed to place two of their recent works into the Art Bank where they would be shown to museum curators, critics, art dealers, and patrons from all over the world. 


By 1962 The Art Bank catalog (1962-63) had grown to include one hundred and eighty-five west coast artists. Like prior catalogs, an image of the work accompanied the artist's biography. Again in 1964, The Art Bank published its final catalog (1964-66) with approximately the same number of artists as in 1962.


The Art Bank organized these works into traveling exhibitions available only to qualified institutions, and they would travel to the smaller museums and galleries, colleges and university art departments, and larger city libraries.  Each traveling show presented a particular style, theme, or concern vital to the art of the period. On occasion, the exhibition would show only one artist's work. These exhibitions usually consisted of 12 to 14 works of art. The exhibitions were carefully boxed in crates and were available for a fee of $50.00 plus one-way transportation (by 1964, the fee was $150.00).  The purpose of these exhibitions was purely educational, and the university, gallery, or library renting these exhibitions could only show them for public benefit without special charge.


Some of the artists who were part of THE 1958 ART BANK were Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Robert Bechtle, Elmer Bischoff, Paul Wonner, James Weeks, John Saccaro, Lucienne Bloch, Wally Hedrick, William Wiley, Frank Hamilton, and 150 others. Artists like Diebenkorn, Bischoff, Park, and Weeks had highly successful careers. Others, moderate careers, and many others are barely a footnote in art history today.


The San Francisco Art Institute disposed of the paintings and sculptures in The Art Bank in the early 1990s. If the work was not owned by the Institute (purchase and other prize-winning paintings became the property of the San Francisco Art Institute), the work was returned to the artist, provided they could be located. This remaining body of prize-winning pictures was consigned to Butterfield West and sold without reserve. One dealer collector purchased most of the works at these auctions and presented an idea to a collector that he should build an important collection around these prize-winning paintings. These works, stored in the Bell Tower of the San Francisco Art Institute since 1964, were sold to this collector and are now exhibited in the new wing of the Crocker Museum, where he donated his collection.


Important Exhibitions


"Fifty Paintings by Thirty-Seven Painters of the Los Angeles Area," UCLA Art Galleries, 1960. This publication was researched and artists were selected by Henry Hopkins who was a student working on his doctorate in art history in the U.C.L.A. Department of Art.


"Fifty California Artists," An exhibition organized by the San Francisco Museum of art, with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for the Whitney Museum of Art, New York,   the Walker Art Center, Minnesota, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, 1962.


"Frederick Wight, The Artists Environment: West Coast." An exhibition presented by the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in collaboration with the UCLA Art Galleries and the Oakland Museum, 1962-63. 


"Henry Hopkins, Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era." Presented by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1976 and the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D. C. 1977. 

Both Wight's and Hopkins catalogs present invaluable information about the historical events, museums, and galleries of this period.


David J. Carlson

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