July 01, 2013

5 Questions: Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher

This summer, we’re taking our Five Questions series around the office and finding out more about SFMOMA staff members and what’s changed for them now that we’re under construction. Today we’re talking to Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Department Head and Helen Hilton Raiser Associate Curator of Architecture and Design, in our new Kearny Street offices, where a lot of our staff have temporarily relocated until our building reopens.


Please describe your job in three sentences or less:

Being the associate curator of architecture and design and head of the architecture and design department boils down to two main imperatives: the display and care of the collection and its growth; and representing the department within the museum and at external events, which currently includes discussions about the museum’s future.

What are you thinking about now that you weren’t thinking about before the museum closed?

So many things! I’m thinking about what a twenty-first-century museum is and how that relates to our department. Right now, in design, there are so many rapid changes happening as the tools change with technological advancements. I’m grappling with how a museum that collects design objects functions when so much of design is moving toward interface and user experience. Within our department, how do we not only upgrade and maintain these tech-laden design projects but also display them? It no longer feels appropriate just to display only the hardware without the interface. Additionally, multiple questions come up about collecting commercially available products. Admittedly, Apple is pretty savvy about how they display their products within a store. How does a museum contextualize such products in a dynamic presentation? I’m really excited to be taking on these questions within our department.

If you could spend an afternoon with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

Interestingly, the last few projects I worked on were focused on deceased practitioners, which allowed a proximity to their work and thinking that is different from working directly with living designers. I would have loved to have met Tobias Wong, Buckminster Fuller, and A. Quincy Jones in their lifetimes, and I wish I could have continued conversations with Lebbeus Woods, who sadly passed away while we were organizing a recent exhibition on his work.

However, given the collective interest the museum has in pondering a twenty-first-century museum, and the A+D department’s interest in considering new methods of display, interpretation, and conservation of product design, I wish that I could spend an afternoon with Bill Moggridge. He was a designer, a founding partner of IDEO, and before he passed away last year, the director of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. His view of design went beyond hardware to study and enhance the user experience. As we lessen our reliance on objects and deepen our dependence on software, Moggridge is someone I am looking to as a pioneer in this area and wish I could call on a regular basis.

If you could steal any artwork to have in your house, what would it be?

James Welling’s early photographs from 1980, like Triptych (B39), 1980.

These small works are so amazing. For me, they are rich formally and conceptually. Triptych (B39) could represent so many different surfaces from the macro (a galaxy? topography? map?) to the micro (skin? bacteria?). The sense of depth that is created by light and reflection is stunning. To learn that it is an image of crumpled aluminum foil adds another dimension, which, for me, is funny, clever, and practical. I could stare at this work for a long time and see it differently with each encounter.

I suppose they are small enough to pocket, but I have too much respect for the collector who got one of these in the eighties to do that.

If you weren’t the head of architecture and design at SFMOMA, what would your gig be?

I’m doing exactly what I want to do, so I can’t really think of anything else I’d rather be doing. If I had to think about this falling through, I would spend more time with my kids.

Have you ever run out of money?

I’m always on the edge of running out of money. I was just thinking that there must be some sort of financial auditing app or software that could optimize spending the way you can optimize a computer. If the program doesn’t exist, someone should think of that.

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