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Wednesday, June 8, 2022


In Her redesign of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Annabelle Selldorf, founder of Selldorf Architects, said, “I thought about how I can bring people in, and make them feel like they are welcome there.” Photo: John Francis Peters for The New York Times 

GUEST BLOG / By Elizabeth Fausto, reporter, La Jolla Light--Only a few weeks removed from dismantling the construction fencing around the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art/San Diego, the oft-renovated edifice is finally open to its new incarnation.

The museum closed since 2017 for the construction, has doubled its size, quadrupled its gallery area, renovated 28,00 square feet of existing space and added outdoor spaces meant to connect the institution more cohesively to its community.

MCASD's flagship location at 700 Prospect Street in La Jolla has undergone its newest renovation (this time a $105 million) expansion under the design and direction of Annabelle Selldorf of Selldorf Architects.

In the designs, she said, Selldorf “celebrates and makes sense of our architectural history,” connecting the styles of original architect Irving Gill with those of architects who renovated the museum in later decades. 

The original building was designed by Gill for Ellen Browning Scripps, who lived there after its completion in 1916 following the destruction by fire of her earlier home on the site in 1915. 

After Scripps’ death, the building became The Art Center in 1941 and evolved into MCASD, undergoing several renovations. 

Two of the most significant were a series of expansions by architectural firm Mosher & Drew in 1950, 1960 and the late 1970s and a renovation by Venturi Scott Brown in 1996. 

MCASD Chief Executive Kathryn Kanjo. Photo: John Francis Peters for The New York Times 

Selldorf’s contribution, according to MCASD’s Chief Executive Kathryn Kanjo “orients us better to the community we serve,” centering the museum’s front door on Prospect facing Silverado Street. 

Passing through the front door, above which awaits installation of the museum’s name, guests will enter an “approachable lobby” marked by open doorways that lead north to Axline Court, which was revamped to have more wall space and curated as “a people space,” Kanjo said. 

Axline Court, with access to the garden and the Prebys Learning Center, where children’s programming is planned, “is definitely a gathering space,” said Chris Cloud, MCASD director of communications and marketing. He said the intention of the expansion “is putting people at the heart of it. We’re thinking about how the museum’s an anchor in The Village,” he said. “We know that it’s going to bring a lot of people from the region here, so we’re giving them spaces for them to hang out, gather and go check out The Village.” 

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s flagship La Jolla location is reopened after a $105 million renovation and expansion. Photo: Elisabeth Frausto 

Through the south side of the lobby is an expansive suite of gallery rooms formerly occupied by the museum’s auditorium. Called the Strauss galleries — most MCASD La Jolla spaces are named for the donors who funded them — the rooms will serve as “our special exhibition hall,” Kanjo said, marked by a “tremendous amount of space,” white maple flooring, and natural or artificial lighting, depending on the room and purpose. 

Some spaces, such as the Foster gallery, sport concrete floors and precast concrete ceilings, while others, like the Pfister gallery, are “jewel-shaped” and feature a ceiling of “structural skylights,” Kanjo said. 

The galleries’ high ceilings — many at 16 feet — produce a “majestic-feeling space to come and contemplate the beauty of art,” Kanjo said. But they also serve a practical purpose, she added: “Contemporary artists will make big things and you need more space.” To enable the ceilings’ height, heating and cooling ducts are buried under the floors, with vents along the floor seams, which Kanjo said is environmentally friendly as well as better for the art. 

Between the galleries and within the west-facing galleries are large windows framing the ocean along Coast Boulevard, with terraces accessible from several museum spaces. 

Italian travertine lines parts of MCASD’s exterior in La Jolla, along with a relocated tree. Photo: Elisabeth Frausto 

The exterior renovations, which include the addition of Italian travertine tiles on both the Prospect Street and Coast Boulevard sides of the building, are “exquisite,” Kanjo said.

Cloud said Selldorf’s “vision is to let the light in, to really make sense of the ocean next door, vs. shutting it away.” The outdoor terraces, which feature new landscaping and will have sculptures on display, and the garden, which has been replanted, are as necessary as the inside spaces, Kanjo said. “We’re about art and audience.” She said Selldorf “has made certain that even when you’re in these very world-class galleries, you understand that you’re in La Jolla.” 

At Jacobs Hall, which boasts oak ceilings and acoustical drywall along with large windows to the ocean, Kanjo envisions a space that will function as the former auditorium did, with a retractable projection screen and other technological advances to enhance spoken-word or video events. “We’ll bring contemporary programming back to La Jolla,” Cloud said. The rest of the existing spaces in MCASD underwent changes to ceilings and floors, along with opening walls for better access or closing up doorways for more wall space, Kanjo said. 

The Palmer terrace, overlooking Coast Boulevard, will contain sculptures. Photo: Elisabeth Frausto 

Quadrupling the museum’s gallery space has “given us the opportunity to highlight our historical collection along with special exhibitions,” Kanjo said. “In the past, we would do one thing or the other. … Now we’ll be able to do long-term installations. It’s a thrill.” 

“Ultimately we want to build long-term relationships with our visitors,” Cloud said. “In the past, people would come for one show. … Now the visitors will be able to build relationships with artworks,” bringing others — into the next generation — to share permanent pieces that have meaning to them. “We’re going to give people a lot more opportunity to build relationships with our collection over time,” he said. 

The entire main building, previously unnamed, is now called the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Building in honor of longtime supporters Joan and Irwin Jacobs, whose $20 million provided the foundation for the museum’s extensive fundraising efforts. “We are especially excited that many others will now have the opportunity to enjoy great contemporary art with this beautiful expansion of MCASD in La Jolla,” Irwin Jacobs said in a statement. 

 Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley director and chief executive of MCASD, said in a statement that the Jacobses’ philanthropy “enables nonprofit organizations such as MCASD to look to the future, allowing the innovation of art and ideas to come to fruition.” 

Irwin and Joan Jacobs donated
more than $20 million to the
MCASD's La Jolla redux
The Jacobses further celebrated MCASD’s La Jolla reopening with the donation of two additional sculptures: a stainless-steel pumpkin with colorful polka dots by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and an oversize stack of lead books by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. 

MCASD’s renovations doubled the museum’s square footage to 104,400. The museum now boasts four times the previous gallery space, two levels of galleries, a public park and new terraces overlooking the coastline. Kanjo said “the design honors the museum’s rich architectural history as it frames distinctive views of The Village and the coast, providing an updated space for the art and for today’s audience.” 

One of the inaugural exhibitions, “Selections from the Collection,” will highlight works from the more than 5,600 in the museum’s collection, curated since 1950 and including pieces by John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Sam Gilliam, Robert Irwin, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Helen Pashgian, and Martin Puryear. 

The exhibit will be accompanied by a printed 460-page handbook. The museum’s new 6,800-square-foot special exhibition space, called the Iris & Matthew Strauss Galleries, will host “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s,” the first exhibit to focus on the experimental and prolific work of French American artist de Saint Phalle, who spent her last years in La Jolla and died in 2002. 

The exhibition, co-curated by The Menil Collection in Houston, will feature major paintings, sculptures and assemblages from the artist’s career. It will run through July. In the fall, MCASD will present “Alexis Smith: The American Way,” the first retrospective of the California artist in more than 25 years. “We look forward to inviting the public to explore our world, our region and ourselves through the prism of contemporary art,” Kanjo said. ◆ 

A full events schedule and details will be posted at 

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