Neal BenezraDirector, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



Neal Benezra became the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in 2002. A Bay Area native, he leads one of the first museums to focus on modern and contemporary art in the United States, offering a world-class exhibition program, a distinguished collection of 28,000 works, an annual attendance of 625,000 visitors, and award-winning educational and public programming. Benezra is also spearheading a $555 million, 235,000-square-foot expansion project, featuring a new building designed by the Oslo/New York-based architecture firm Snøhetta that is scheduled to open in 2016.

Under Benezra’s leadership, SFMOMA has enjoyed landmark collections growth, pioneering joint acquisitions with other museums, including a Felix Gonzalez-Torres sculpture with the Art Institute of Chicago and Guggenheim Museum; a groundbreaking partnership to bring the renowned Doris and Donald Fisher Collection to SFMOMA; and an extensive collections campaign, which launched with 200 promised gifts by such artists as Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock, David Smith, and many others.

During Benezra’s tenure, SFMOMA has also experienced physical growth with the opening of the 14,400-square-foot Rooftop Garden in 2009 that has greatly broadened the museum’s programming. Continuing this transformative work, Benezra leads the current expansion project that will significantly enlarge and enhance the museum’s spaces and programming by doubling the current square footage of gallery space, increasing public circulation with new entrances and gathering places, and integrating a variety of education spaces throughout the building.

Benezra formerly served as deputy director and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, a dual position he assumed in 2000. At the Art Institute of Chicago, Benezra worked closely with director and president James N. Wood to shape plans for the design of the Modern Wing by architect Renzo Piano.  

Previously, he spent eight years at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he was assistant director for art and public programs (1996-99) and chief curator (1991-96). From 1985 to 1991, Benezra served at the Art Institute of Chicago as curator in the department of 20th-century painting and sculpture. Benezra was also curator at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa served as one of the first coordinators of the Anderson Collection in the Bay Area.

Benezra holds both doctoral and master’s degrees in the history of art from Stanford University; a master’s degree in the history of art from the University of California, Davis; and a bachelor’s degree with honors in the history of art and political science from the University of California, Berkeley.