After some 16 years in the making, the 54,000-square-foot Orange County Museum of Art is now set to open its doors on Oct. 8 with a 24-hour festival at its new home in Costa Mesa.
Heidi Zuckerman, who became chief executive of OCMA in February 2021, has a message for the business community.
“Art is a good business,” Zuckerman told the Business Journal. “It’s a way to encourage people to think differently.
“Since I’ve been in Orange County, one of the things I’ve been so impressed with is how many people have made something out of nothing. That spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism is exactly what this museum is.”
The opening is the culmination of the $94 million development of a building that’s been in the spotlight since 2006, when a contest was held to find an architect.
The architect who eventually won that contest was Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a 2005 winner of the Pritzker Prize for his design of Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona.
Mayne last week said he didn’t want to build “a shiny object,” but rather a place where the community can gather at events.
“We built this building and left three quarters of the site empty, and it’s a piazza,” Mayne said. “It’s about community engagement, making relationships. It’s not just an art building. It’s much bigger than that.
“I’m very proud of this building.”
The museum dates to 1962 when it opened as the Balboa Pavilion Gallery on Newport’s Balboa Peninsula, created by 13 local women. The museum is honoring these 13 women with a year-long homage of works from the 1960s to the present of artists who were important to the museum’s development.
The exhibit was curated by Zuckerman, who plans to feature upward of 100 female artists each year.
By 1977, the museum moved to Newport Center, on land donated by Irvine Co. In 1997, it was remodeled and renamed the Orange County Museum of Art.
The museum is noted for its major holdings of California-centric art, highlighting such movements as early and mid-century modernism, Bay Area Figuration and pop art.
A who’s who of Orange County executives has served on its board over the years, including Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren.
Zuckerman has kept that tradition alive, bringing on new board members such as Bob Olson, founder of Newport Beach’s R.D. Olson Development, the largest hotel developer on the West Coast; and Lucy Sun, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs.
Sun, who was a former co-chair of the board of trustees at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, is OCMA’s incoming president.
“The drive to connect people with art and artists remains today,” Sun said.
About a decade ago, the museum decided to sell the Newport Beach property and decamp for a larger facility at OC’s main arts hub in Costa Mesa. The museum sold the land in Newport Beach for an estimated $25 million, money which is going to the funding for the building; to date, the museum has raised about $74 million, plus an additional $7 million for its endowment.
The museum broke ground in September 2019 on 1.6 acres of land donated by the Segerstrom family, whose name adorns the nearby Center for the Arts. The family’s various business interests built and own nearby South Coast Plaza, the largest luxury shopping center in the country with over $2 billion in taxable sales.
Henry Segerstrom, who founded South Coast Plaza, “once told me that all great civilizations have a cultural component,” his son Anton Segerstrom said in a speech last week. “He believed in the power of the arts and its ability to elevate the community.”
Anton and Jennifer Segerstrom are the largest individual donors for the new facility, having made an $8 million contribution, according to a listing of OCMA donors at the site.
Zuckerman’s résumé includes being the CEO and director at the Aspen Art Museum from 2005-2019 where she created a new museum building with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban.
The most difficult part of completing OCMA’s building was dealing with the trade delays caused by the pandemic, she said.
When Zuckerman, who has curated more than 200 exhibitions, started at the OCMA, she didn’t like the planned lighting for the new facility, so she fought to have it changed.
“We went from a dark ceiling with industrial lighting to a white ceiling with diffused ambient light. I think the art looks incredible. I’m thrilled.”
The museum’s shop The Mind is operated by Emmanuel Renoird and Nicolas Libert, who created the concept store Please Do Not Enter at South Coast Plaza.
The goal “was to create a surprising and unexpected museum store experience envisioned as a ‘destination within a destination,’” Renoird and Libert said. “With a continuously changing inventory of artist and artisan-designed products, visitors to the store are sure to find something new on each visit.”
The shopping experience will have five sections of various items for purchase including artist books, exhibition merchandise and vintage pieces.
The 24-hour Opening
OCMA has an atrium with glass skylights, a grand staircase and a rooftop mezzanine that can hold 1,000 people for events such as fashion shows, weddings or conferences.
Architect Mayne and his partner Brandon Welling wanted a seamless connection between indoor-outdoor space where people could feel comfortable with the movement of air and passersby could look inside.
The grand opening will feature a 24-hour festival that begins at 5 p.m. on Oct. 8. A gala full of events to attract the public is scheduled, including morning yoga and movies in the middle of the night for insomniacs.
The California Biennial 2022 will be the inaugural exhibition in the new home featuring over 20 artists from the state.
Lugano Diamonds has donated over $3.5 million to the museum; those funds are being used to provide free admission for the first decade.
The museum will have about 25,000 square feet for exhibits, about the same size as New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and double the size of the prior Newport Beach location.
To commemorate the museum’s 60th anniversary, the board set out to acquire 60 pieces and ended up receiving over 80 works of art in the past year.
Out of its 4,500-piece art collection, about 100 to 200 is on exhibit at any one time. The collection is changed every four months with five exhibits currently on display.
“Three years ago, this was dirt,” Zuckerman said. “This incredible building came out of nothing. It’s a great model for people to see that we can come together as a community and make extraordinary things happen.”
How to Experience an Art Museum
Heidi Zuckerman, chief executive of the Orange County Museum of Art, has written a guide to experience art:
First, take a minute to ground yourself.
Take an inhale, then an exhale.
Consciously relax your body.
Calmly relax your mind.
Then ask yourself the following five questions:
• What am I observing?
• Is there anything that seems familiar or reminds me of myself?
• How do I feel and how would I describe that feeling to someone else?
• What surprises me?
• Do I care?