After David Ireland moved out of 500 Capp Street in 2004 due to failing health, his family prepared to put the House on the market in order to help with his financial needs. The home’s fate became uncertain during the following years. In 2008, San Francisco art collector and patron Carlie Wilmans, granddaughter of late Bay Area philanthropist Phyllis C. Wattis, purchased the building. Soon after she established The 500 Capp Street Foundation, appointing prominent local art patron Ann Hatch and Yale University Art Gallery director Jock Reynolds—both longtime friends and associates of Ireland—as fellow founding trustees in oversight of the house as a venue for the preservation and study of the artist’s work. Ireland passed away in 2009 at the age of 78.
Archive + Study Center
More than 2,000 artworks given to the Foundation by Ireland’s estate—a major concentration of sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, and artist-made furniture—form the core of the home’s permanent collection. The Foundation also maintains some 1,000 pieces of ephemera, personal papers, photographs, and publications housed in a climate-controlled sub-level archive and study center that is open by appointment to anyone interested in the artist’s work. The Foundation seeks to grow its collection by acquiring additional Ireland works and archival materials, and by commissioning new artworks made in response to the House.
Exhibitions + Programs
Organized in collaboration with the foundation’s curators and invited artists from across the globe and diverse artistic disciplines, three thematic exhibitions per year highlight changing selections of work from the Foundation’s extensive 3,000-piece collection of Ireland’s art and archival materials.
Programming takes place in two spaces inside the House: the primary exhibition space of the home, comprising the two main floors of Ireland’s living quarters including the Accordion Shop, a room used by the home’s previous owner, Mr. Greub, for his accordion-making business.
The Garage, a new multi-use space created in the home’s former car port launched in 2017, features five rotating exhibitions each year, inviting artists from around the world and at different stages of their careers to create intimate, powerful shows. The Garage is free and open to the public each Saturday from noon – 5 p.m.
Related public programs—including music, readings, workshops, and talks—focus on the social aspects of Ireland’s work, as well as the initial maintenance actions he undertook to transform his home into a work of art in itself. These programs engage an array of community partners to bring them to life and explore topics such as Ireland’s interests in language; his renowned sense of humor; his focus on materiality and choreographed movement; his thinking about chance and improvisation; and his experiments with light and space. In keeping with Ireland’s ephemeral approach to art-making, collaborations often focus on time-based media, site-specific installation, and live performance.
Visiting Artist Series
At the heart of the Foundation is its residency program, which extends Ireland’s influence by inviting other artists to create work in direct response to the House and collection. As a teacher and mentor, Ireland regularly welcomed fellow visual artists, writers, musicians, and performance artists to 500 Capp Street, making the House—and all that creatively and socially transpired within it—a hub of the artistic community.
A planned artist residency program launching in 2017 will continue that tradition with an initial focus on opportunities for local artists, offering a stipend to offset San Francisco housing costs. The Foundation intends to grow the program to eventually encompass an international community of artists from all disciplines.
500 Capp Street’s tours are led by trained guides from the Bay Area’s community of practicing young artists, art students, and graduates whose diverse practices engage and give voice to Ireland’s work. They provide visitors with a meaningful tour experience of the home by sharing its history and connecting it to today’s art landscape.
In the future, the Foundation is interested in offering tours for school-aged learners that introduce students to Ireland’s work, contemporary art practice, and the broader Bay Area conceptual art movement of the 1970s. Tours and activities will align with California Visual Arts Standards and Common Core State Standards, and can be tailored to incorporate specific classroom themes and topics.