Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Second Coming: MCASD now open in time for Easter and Passover

By Patricia Frischer

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla

Some days you just seem to get a gift from heaven and when it is unexpected, then the thrill is really there. Does the outside of the renovated Museum of Contemporary Art look like a destination building? No, thank goodness!  Instead, the architect has honored the art, honored the visitors, honored La Jolla and this newly re-born museum honors all of San Diego County!

You add in a very fine show of Niki de Saint Phalle which highlights her earlier work from the 60’s and 11 new works that have just joined the permanent collection and you have an overwhelming experience of joy.

Principal Architect Annabelle Selldorf noted: “Our goal for the museum was to allow the fantastic site and views of the Pacific Ocean to guide a coherent circulation path and instill a generous and inclusive spirit to bring people to the great collection of MCASD.”

Selldorf Architects is currently designing a major renovation and enhancement of the Frick Collection in New York City and is leading the team reimagining The National Gallery in London. Selldorf has brought those first class skills to bear in a building that marks a coming of age for contemporary art in San Diego. The construction started in 2018 with an existing 58,000 square feet. She added 46,400 square feet from the total of 104,400 square feet but the space now has 40,000 square feet of gallery space instead of the previous 10,000. 

Kathryn Kanjo, David C. Copley Director and CEO of MCASD (since 2016), “…The design rejects the notion of the hermetically sealed white cube and instead brings the outdoors into the museum space. Selldorf Architects has opened up MCASD and let in the light.”

The new spaces are large and the layout complex. You can get pleasantly lost but you will never tire. When the art is intense you have windows and terraces with terrific views. When the art needs light, which is inherent in the requirements for California made art, it is there. Everywhere you turn there is a vista tempting you on to a new space. Pro tip, there is a map of the space to use so you don’t miss anything.


Joan and Irwin Jacobs at ribbon cutting

Annabelle Selldorf, Architect, Selldorf Architects
, , 
Kathryn Kanjo, The David C. Copley Director and CEO MCASD, SD City Mayor Todd Gloria, Jonathon Glus, City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, Paul Jacobs, MCASD Board Chair (and wee one!)

Andrew Utt, Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego and Alan Ziter, NTC Foundation at Liberty Station 

Mayor Gloria

Video: View of Niki de Saint Phalle galleries, Anniversary Donor wall, Kori Newkirk, Glint, Kim MacConnel, Red Lantern and Many Farber, Story of the Eye,  Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston, 1989/2016, Jonathan Borofsky,  Hammering Man

Niki de Saint Phalle in the 60s is a collaboration with The Menil Collection, Houston co-curated by Jill Dawsey, PhD, Senior Curator of MCASD, and Michelle White, Senior Curator, the Menil Collection. The works is on display in the Iris and Mathew Strauss galleries of the new Joan and Irwin Jacobs wing. Many of the galleries are named and there is a long wall of donors that you can see in the video above. 

In San Diego, we are very familiar with later works by Saint Phalle…the Nanas she made while living here are bright, shiny, fun loving, bigger than life women. So it was educational and exciting to see her Tirs, or “shooting paintings,” which she created using a .22 caliber rifle. There are a collection of found objects with pockets of colors buried within ,all attached to a substrate  Shooting the gun at the objects, exploded the color which drips and stains and obscures and highlights. Sometimes she would even let the viewers shoot the works. Saint Phalle explained that her intention was “to make a painting bleed.” All this violence built her reputation as a feminist and even the Nanas inviting people into a giant vagina, was certainly outrageous and well before her time. 

There is an extensive catalog available of the Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960 as well as the Museum of Contemporary San Diego Art Handbook to the Collection. Everything but the Saint Phalle show on view is from the permanent collection. This show is on view until July 17, 2022.

The MCASD has 5,600 works from 1950 to the present and although most of them have been on display at some time in the history of the museum, there were many works  that I have never seen. Paintings by Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Morris Louis, and Mark Rothko are among the 11 objects donated from the collection of Barbara Bloom, adding to the Museum’s holdings in 2021.

I was so glad to see that the Axline Court is still there and still impressive, as are the Robert Irwin untitled paneless windows and the Jonathan Borofsky,  Hammering Man is still in motion in the front. The older section is a bit sad, since the ceiling are low and it seems a bit dim, but lighting could help. Maybe make some drama with dark walls and spotlights? I was glad to see the video viewing room showing the stunning Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston. I have added a random selection of works that caught my eye, but I will be back for many visits in the future.  The museum is open to the public again starting Sat, April 9th. so plan a trip soon. 

Axline Court

Robert Irwin, untitled

Jonathan Borofsky,  Hammering Man 

Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston

Maren Hassinger, Wall Flower

Peter Alexander, Orange Wedge, 1970

De Wain Valentine, Diamond Column, 1978

Adriana Varejão, Azulejaria “de tapete” em carne viva (Carpet-Style Tilework in Live Flesh), 1999

Lorna Simpson, Guarded Conditions, 1989

Anselm Kiefer, Maria durch ein Dornwald ging (Maria Walks Amid the Thorns), 2008

Robert Irwin (debut), Spanish Fan, 1995


Yayoi Kusama, Dreaming Pumpkin, 2012

Beautiful spread for guests at the ribbon cutting


This year, both locations will feature solo exhibitions by trailblazing women artists, including the current exhibition of the late Yolanda López at MCASD Downtown, and the survey of the early work of Niki de Saint Phalle followed by retrospectives of Alexis Smith in the fall and Celia Alvarez Muñoz in the spring of 2023

Bring the whole family MCASD's Prebys Play Day, featuring free admission, hands-on artmaking activities, an accessible food program and transportation. This community access event will continue on the Second Sunday of every month.

The Museum’s revamped cafe, The Kitchen @MCASD opens in July

Hours: Thursday - Sunday 10 AM - 4 PM, Monday - Wednesday, Closed
Open Holiday Mondays (closed July 4, 2022)
La Jolla & Downtown, Third Thursdays 10 AM - 8 PM (Free All Day)
Second Sundays, 10 AM - 4 PM (Free All Day)
Summer Thursdays, 10 AM - 8 PM Memorial Day - Labor Day
The Shop @ MCASD
Thursday through Tuesday 10 AM - 4 PM

 All images: Patricia Frischer

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