Soon after philanthropist Pamela Joyner and her husband, Fred Giuffrida, a venture capital investor, began amassing their seminal collection of African American art, it became evident that wall space would soon be at a premium. Instead of worrying about it, they decided not to let it deter them from carrying out a history-changing endeavor.
Nestled in Presidio Terrace—one of San Francisco’s most storied residential enclaves—the couple’s four-story home is filled floor to ceiling with nearly 150 pieces from an ever-growing body of more than 400 works. Fifteen years ago, when they bought the 1909 neo-Georgian residence, Joyner hired local architect Dan Phipps to reset the bones of the 10,000-square-foot house. They also recruited Houston-based designer Philip Sheffield to help streamline its interiors. “What we sit on in the home is now a function of what hangs on the walls,” says Joyner. “I feel like I’m perpetually redecorating, mostly because I have to get rid of furniture or reconfigure it oddly.” Illustrating the dilemma, she points out how many of the beds are positioned against windows to free up valuable wall space.
“It’s also fair to say there are a few pieces that just don’t physically fit into the house,” adds Giuffrida. “But this home is part of our mission, so we’ve tried to get a representation of all the artists in here.” That mission has been to engineer a course correction to open the canon of art history to artists of color who’ve been overlooked or need to be properly contextualized. “If you were a transformational artist who just happened to be Black and were excluded because of your race, that’s the definition of a social justice problem that needs to be rectified,” explains Joyner, who is a trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Art Institute of Chicago, and New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
In 2016 their pursuit was chronicled in the hefty Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art (Gregory R. Miller & Co.), which has since been updated to incorporate a number of new works. That book served as the introduction to “Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection,” a traveling exhibition that debuted the following year at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Subsequently, it traveled to four more institutions before returning home late last year.
In the late 1990s, when Joyner began collecting, she first became familiar with Black abstraction, and both the narrative and aesthetic were appealing. “After meeting art historian and curator Lowery Sims, I understood that there was an issue to be addressed, so I started with careers in that genre,” she recalls. A decade ago, Joyner and Giuffrida began expanding their holdings to include the entire African diaspora and in the past year have begun to focus particularly on Afro-Brazilian artists. “Brazil is such a complex society that thinks of itself as post-racial, but there are so many artists of color who’ve never been seen as part of the mainstream there—Rubem Valentim and Emanoel Araujo are two such touchstones for us.”
As for the process of selection, they have it down to a science. “We also learned over time that it’s not enough just to collect an artist’s work—you want to choose their very best work,” explains Giuffrida. In March, SFMOMA—one beneficiary of their eagle-eyed efforts—announced Joyner and Giuffrida’s major gift of 31 pieces, in addition to the long-term loan of Jordan Casteel’s painting Aurora, which appeared on Vogue’s September issue cover last year.
Whole arcs of careers are now represented in the collection, including those of Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling, Norman Lewis, Leonardo Drew, and Jack Whitten—and of younger artists like Casteel and Kevin Beasley. “Sitting in our living room you’ll experience a comprehensive story about Jack Whitten,” Joyner points out. “To me it demonstrates what I hope artists in particular recognize to be a labor of love. It’s taken us very many years to assemble this story, and we’re thrilled to have it.”
Gesturing broadly to the walls, Joyner reflects on their surroundings. “We’re only temporary stewards of this work, and our assumption is that some portion will wind up belonging to a museum, and it must be properly preserved. So, the art drives everything—even the chairs we sit on.”