SFMOMA director Neal Benezra, long a fan of Bay Area sculptor Robert Arneson, has spent a decade chasing after a bust of slain mayor George Moscone which the city commissioned from Arneson but ultimately rejected because of what he put on the pedestal. The bust stands eight feet tall a beaming, outsize head of Moscone sitting atop a tall concrete column and it's a good likeness of the man, but in 1981, then mayor Dianne Feinstein asked the Arts Commission to give back the money they'd paid to Arneson unless he agreed to change the graffiti'd pedestal, which refers not only to Moscone's assassin, Dan White, but also the "Twinkie defense" and features smears of red that look like blood.
Though it was Arneson's intent to be a "realist" in presenting Moscone this way, it was the epitome of "too soon!" and Moscone's family members saw it as an outright attack. Arneson refused to change the pedestal and the city rejected the piece, but it has remained a valuable work of art in part because of the connection to one of San Francisco's most traumatic events. Arneson wanted to invoke sculptures of ancient Roman senators and other figures where sculptors would inscribe the pedestals with words, but Christopher Moscone, son of George who was 16 at the time of his assassination, still sees the piece as provocative and "demeaning," and "not appropriate for public art." Arneson passed away from cancer in 1992, and the sculpture changed hands several times, but as the Chron reports, the SFMOMA finally got its hands on it recently for the permanent collection. As of today, it's standing in its own alcove among other Bay Area art at the museum, and Benezra says, at long last, "It had to be here."