A new museum puts Los Angeles’s neighbor to the south at the forefront of the art world
Orange County is known for Disneyland, Endless Summer–worthy beaches, and, well, housewives. A spectacular new art museum, however, has this sun-dappled stretch of Southern California staking its claim as a cultural destination.
The new Orange County Museum of Art building would fit in a lineup with the Whitney, the Broad, and any other recent-vintage American arts institution. The 53,000-square-foot concrete and ceramic-tile structure was designed by Morphosis, the Culver City, California–based firm founded by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Thom Mayne, and while its undulating exterior is eye-catching, the gallery spaces are truly meant to serve the art. “It’s an iconic building by any definition,” says Orange County Museum of Art CEO and director Heidi Zuckerman. “The building is super-dynamic, and the galleries are clean and elegant: They’re all 19 feet to the base of the ceilings, all of the walls are Benjamin Moore Super White, and there’s not an outlet or a switch. They’re a sacred space for the presentation of art.”
Along with the permanent collection—which includes more than 4,500 works from artists such as John Baldessari, Richard Diebenkorn, and Ed Ruscha—the museum has several special commissions and exhibitions planned for its opening. Zuckerman curated 13 Women, a rotating show dedicated to the women who 60 years ago founded a gallery in Newport Beach that later grew into OCMA. She also asked Los Angeles native Sanford Biggers to create a massive sculpture to be placed at the top of the exterior grand staircase, and she hired three guest curators to revive the California Biennial, once a staple exhibit for the museum.
“I reached out to Elizabeth Armstrong, who had been a curator here in the early aughts,” Zuckerman says. “We talked about wanting to have a multi-generational audience and to show multigenerational artists, so we thought we should have a multigenerational curatorial team. [Armstrong] describes herself as a boomer, then we invited Gilbert Vicario, who’s Gen X, and a curator named Essence Harden, who is a millennial. The three of them collectively visited over 200 artist studios across California and put together an invitation list.”
Indeed, inclusivity is such a priority for OCMA that general admission will be free for the new building’s first 10 years. “Contemporary art can be weird or scary for people,” Zuckerman says. “There are still bumpers that we’ll need to get people to come across, but we’re way better positioned to serve the 3.1 million people who live in Orange County.”
As for visitors to Southern California? “You can only spend so many days at Disneyland and the beach,” Zuckerman says. “Come and see a bit of art in between all of that.”