Neal Benezra

Modern Master

Neal Benezra, M.A. ’78, has been active in the transformation of the modern art landscape in San Francisco. A native Californian who spent 20 years with museums in the Midwest and the East, he has been director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art since 2002.

Most recently he spearheaded a building expansion that nearly tripled the museum’s exhibition space. Though construction shuttered the museum for three years, until May 2016, Benezra said, “We embraced it as an opportunity to connect with organizations in the Bay Area and beyond to present exhibitions
and programming.”

A spirit of collaboration has helped SFMOMA survive difficult economic times, he said. “The price of great works of art has challenged all museums in building collections,” Benezra continued, “and we have been able to co-acquire works with many great museums, most recently, a work by the great South African artist William Kentridge, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”

He is already looking ahead to envision what a contemporary art museum will be in the future. “One thing I love about our trustees and staff is there is no laurel-resting. No one is interested in what has been accomplished,” he said. “What is the next big idea?”

— Julie Davis Canter, UC Davis Magazine, Spring/Summer 2017. Photo credit: Beth Laberge/SFMOMA.