Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego reopens in La Jolla

MCASD La Jolla Exterior

MCASD’s La Jolla campus reopens on Sat., April 9. | Photo via studio MAHA

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After four years of construction and a $105 million renovation + expansion, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is reopening its flagship campus in La Jolla this weekend — with free admission, to boot.

The glow up features four times the gallery space across two levels, a public art park, and terraces offering sweeping views of the Pacific coastline. We got a chance to check it out, so here’s a peek at the museum masterpiece.

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🎨 By the numbers + what’s new?

Selldorf Architects helmed this project, which features:

  • Full renovations on 58,000 square feet of existing spaces.
  • 46,400 square feet of new construction.
  • Now, MCASD stands at 104,400 square feet.
  • Soaring 20-ft ceilings + ample use of glass to showcase the oceanfront location.
  • A clearer, more welcoming entrance.
  • Sherman Auditorium has been repurposed into a grand exhibition space.
  • Art Park, a free community space that can be accessed from Prospect Street.
  • The Kitchen @MCASD, a revamped café set to open in July featuring grill plates, beer + wine — with a seaside view.
  • New event spaces + outdoor seaside terraces.
Coastal view of MCASD La Jolla

Oceanfront view of MCASD’s new La Jolla flagship by Selldorf Architects. | Photo via the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego + Breadtruck Films.

🖼️ The art (and a little history)

To kick off its new era, the museum is displaying these inaugural exhibitions:

  • Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s”: Rare, early works from the feminist artist who spent her final years in San Diego, co-organized by The Menil Collection in Houston. Pro tip: There’s so much to see here — give yourself plenty of time to explore these pieces.
  • Selections from the Collection”: 200+ works from MCASD’s diverse collection, including art with ties to the California Light + Space movement, and pieces linked to the relationship with the US-Mexico border. Some of these are works rarely on view, including pieces by John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, and Helen Pashgian.

Did you know? MCASD was founded in 1941 as The Art Center in La Jolla. Before it was a museum, it was the home of journalist + philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. Today, its collection includes 4,700+ works created since 1950.

MCASD La Jolla

Installation view of the Marshall Gallery and Cohn Gallery inside MCASD’s new La Jolla flagship by Selldorf Architects. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects. | Photo via Nicholas Venezia.
Artwork from left Lari Pittman, How Sweet the Day After This and That, Deep Sleep Is Truly Welcomed, 1988. Acrylic, enamel, and five framed works on paper on wood panels overall (three panels): 96 1/16 × 192 1/8in. (244 × 488cm). Collection of Matthew and Iris Strauss. Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1967. Silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 115 1/2 x 115 1/2 in. (293.4 x 293.4 cm); framed: 116 x 116 x 1 1/2 in. Museum purchase with contributions from the Museum Art Council Fund.

🎟️ Tickets + how to see it all

MCASD’s grand reopening is tomorrow, from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. On Sunday, Prebys Play Day will offer family-friendly activities + an art-making workshop; you can register for free tickets here. After reopening weekend, MCASD in La Jolla will be open Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Pro tip: Both the La Jolla + downtown San Diego locations are open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. every third Thursday of month and admission is free that day. Admission is also free on the second Sunday of every month. Otherwise, find tickets to MCASD in La Jolla here, and ticket info for the downtown San Diego location here.

📍 700 Prospect St., La Jolla
📍 1100 Kettner Blvd., downtown San Diego

MCASD La Jolla

The Sahm Seaview Room and Bartell Terrace with views of the Pacific Ocean at MCASD’s new La Jollaflagship by Selldorf Architects. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects. | Photo via Nicholas Venezia.

🖌️ The talk of the town

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at MCASD in La Jolla on Tues., April 5, and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria proclaimed the date “Museum of Contemporary Art Day” in the City of San Diego. He presented the museum with a framed proclamation and joked that given the caliber of the artwork inside, he wouldn’t blame the museum if the proclamation ended up “somewhere in a supply closet.”

“I am blown away by the beauty of this building — the fact that it stands as a piece of art itself,” Gloria said at a press conference that day. “But then to add in priceless works of art, you just know that we have something special here.”

MCASD Ribbon Cutting

Mayor Todd Gloria, the Jacobs Family + other local dignitaries cut the ribbon on April 5, 2022, celebrating the reopening of MCASD’s renovated + expanded La Jolla location. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

The mayor recalled being at MCASD during the groundbreaking for the project back in 2018 — when he and museum leadership stood at the site of a staff parking lot and tried to envision what the expansion project would become.

“This project may have been difficult, but it’s worth doing. This is a transformation of extraordinary achievement and not just for this cultural institution, but for our city itself,” Gloria said.

The mayor said the city is embarking on its first-ever cultural planning process called “The Creative City” — with goals to take a comprehensive look at our local arts + culture investments, current and future, and weave them into other city-led initiatives.

“We want to make sure art is integral to what we do here in the city and without a doubt, the Museum of Contemporary Art is amongst San Diego’s most prominent cultural assets,” Gloria explained.

Gloria said the arts are pivotal to the quality of life in San Diego, especially after the difficult years of the pandemic.

“The arts are helping to lead us out of this dark time. Whether it’s the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the new Mingei International Museum at Balboa Park, and now this incredible institution,” he said. “San Diegans are emerging from a very dark time in our history to see these incredible beacons not just of new buildings, but of new hope. And a real testament to the fact that we are a big, global city capable of doing amazing, incredible things.”

Irving Gill facade at MCASD

The original Irving Gill facade at MCASD’s new La Jolla flagship by Selldorf Architects. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects. | Photo via Nicholas Venezia

Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley director and CEO of MCASD, was beaming with pride over the renovation + expansion of the museum.

“We’re celebrating a massive and masterful transformation of this 80-year-old institution,” Kanjo said at the press conference. “Since its founding in 1941 the MCASD has served as a seaside beacon of inspiration + creativity for the San Diego-Tijuana region and beyond.”

Kanjo said the quadrupling of the museum’s capacity will help display more of its collections and noted that each new and renovated space “embraces our spectacular location perched here above the Pacific Ocean.”

MCASD La Jolla

Installation view of the Cohn Gallery inside MCASD’s new La Jolla flagship by Selldorf Architects. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects. | Photo Credit via Nicholas Venezia.
Artwork from left: John Baldessari, Terms Most Useful in Describing Creative Works of Art, 1966- 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 113 3/4 x 96 in. (288.9 x 243.8 cm). Gift of John Oldenkamp. Marisol, Paris Review, 1967. Screenprint, 115/150, framed: 39 1/2 × 33 1/4in. (100.3 × 84.5cm), sheet: 32 1/2 × 26in. (82.6 × 66cm). Gift of Frank Mitze

Annabelle Selldorf, of Selldorf Architects, spearheaded the museum’s expansion and said the unveiling was a special, emotional day.

“The goal of this project was to create a more inviting and inclusive museum, with greater connection to the community — to this very special site — and create gallery space, expand its space for the exhibition of the really significant collection of the museum,” Selldorf explained.

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