08/06/2012 09:31 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2012

City Hires Art Detective After San Francisco Arts Commission Loses Part Of $90 Million Public Art Collection

San Francisco has recently hired its very own art detective and announced a moratorium on public art donations to the city, all in response to claims that portions of a $90 million art collection have gone missing from the city's collection, according to a California Watch article.

A Civil Grand Jury report released last month admonished the San Francisco Arts Commission for mismanaging the city's valuables after it discovered that portions of the 4,000-piece public art collection were nowhere to be found. The jury put a spotlight on the Commission's inventory practices, stating that the city's art remains only partially counted and exposed to neglect.

Just how large the missing portions are is unknown, but a Bay Citizen article from 2011 cites a few concrete examples of the city's loss, stating that 141 items from a 1972 acquisition of 496 pieces meant to be housed in San Francisco General hospital have yet to be located and 19 of the city's 58 pieces of modernist jewelry are tentatively missing.

The current public art collection consists of sculptures and monuments as well as 2,500 paintings and other movable works that have spent time on the facades of public buildings. With items ranging in value from Edvard Munch's lithographs to local artisan craft works, it is a vast inventory of works that has grown since the initial 1969 Art Enrichment Ordinance that mandated two percent of public works contracts be allocated toward public art. The arts commission still has sufficient funds to add to the already massive collection, yet the collection has only two staff members in charge of tending to its growth and maintenance. This, according to the Civil Grand Jury's report, may be a reason why a significant portion of the collection has gone missing.

Tom DeCaigny, the Director of Cultural Affairs for the Arts Commission, told the Huffington Post in an e-mail that his organization suffers from limited resources and a backlog of outstanding issues dating back to the 1950s, '60s, and '70s when the commission' staff was even smaller, not mismanagement. With regards to the current staffing arrangment, DeCaigny stated that the Commission has plans to add two employees to the collection's staff, one of whom will be tasked solely with working on a comprehensive inventory project to deal with the missing art. Beyond the hiring of the pseudo-art detective, the Commission has also established a fundraising initiative titled ArtCare to help secure private funds for their conservation projects in lieu of diminishing public dollars.

The SF Civil Grand Jury doesn't seem convinced by the commission's commitment to the reforms though. “They keep saying they’ll do something, but the proof is in the pudding,” Mort Raphael, who led the grand jury committee investigation, told California Watch. “It’s a huge $90 million arrangement of art materials –- paintings, jewelry, handicrafts, sculpture. It’s a big deal. It’s the city’s property. And they have let it get out of control.”

Although San Francisco will continue to acquire works under the Art Enrichment Ordinance, the city has decided to temporarily stop accepting public donations outside of the program. In the past, the collections of city-supported museums like the de Young and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)have overshadowed the city's own art vault. And generous art collectors, like William S. Paley who is currently showcasing his collected art at the de Young, have brought them more public attention.

See a slideshow of Edvard Munch's "The Modern Eye" at the Tate Modern in London, which is (safely) on view until October 14, 2012.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that $90 million worth of art was missing from the collection. However, the San Francisco Arts Commission has alerted us that only portions of the collection, valued at $90 million, are missing.

Edvard Munch