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Whiff of the new as modern art museum expands in San Diego

Whiff of the new as modern art museum expands in San Diego

The hip new downtown building just opened by the contemporary art museum smells. Literally.
Along with the sharp odor of fresh paint and recently poured concrete, the foyer and soaring main room are permeated with the rich scent of cloves, cumin, ginger, black pepper and turmeric emanating from a maze of white Lycra sacks filled with spices and suspended from the ceiling beams by the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto.
Neto's spice bags, coated in bright yellows and reds as spice powder leaks out, are the first temporary exhibit to occupy the central space in the new downtown outpost of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
The museum invested a relatively modest $25 million (euro19 million) to transform a portion of the city's Mission-style train station into an intimate, tactile display space for new work.
San Diego is late to the expansion game, which has sent art institutions from New York to Los Angeles scrambling to outshine _ and, seemingly, to outspend _ each other putting up big, fancy new "destination" buildings by brand-name architects such as Renzo Piano and Daniel Liebeskind.
A recent survey by the American Association of Museums showed nearly a quarter of museums were in the process of fundraising for new spaces, and half of those had already begun or completed construction. The biggest projects _ among them wholesale renovations costing hundreds of millions of dollars at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art _ attempt not only to attract art tourists but to transform the cityscape around them.
By contrast, the San Diego museum just wanted to create space to house large-scale installations such as Neto's that were too big for the original building, located in the primarily residential La Jolla neighborhood, about 15 miles north of downtown.
"It was never our aspiration to start over and build a quote, unquote 'museum,'" said Charles Castle, the museum's deputy director, who has overseen the eight-year expansion project. "We never wanted to do what they're doing in some of these other cities. We wanted to build a space artists could work in."
Rather than competing for attention with the cluster of new glass condo buildings that have transformed San Diego's downtown skyline in recent years, architect Richard Gluckman kept the new facilities within the profile of the one-story train station, originally opened in 1915 for the Panama California Exposition. A boxy new three-story addition houses offices and lecture space for the public.
Gluckman's recent work includes the Mori Arts Center, part of a Tokyo skyscraper, and several high-end private art galleries in New York City.
The new exhibit space is woven into the fabric of downtown, with the glass doors at the rear of the foyer opening directly onto the working train platform, where commuters peered around a display of giant steel blocks by artist Richard Serra as a train master called out arrivals and departures for Amtrak service to Los Angeles one night last week.
Along with the central, industrial-style 4,600-square-foot (414-square-meter) installation room _ whose arched windows and sliding wooden doors recall its origin as a baggage hall _ the facility includes a classic two-room "white box" gallery for displaying smaller paintings or sculptures and a media room for showing video art.
The museum, which has long run an artist-in-residence program, also carved out space in the former baggage depot for a working artist's studio with its own separate street entrance.
"It was a logical outgrowth of our mandate to work with living artists to give them a space to work in," Castle said. San Diego-based light artist Robert Irwin will be the first artist to break in the space, which still held only a large flat-panel TV and an Eames lounger set as the museum prepared to open to the public over the weekend.
With the debut of the expanded space, the museum changed its admission policy, raising the price of a ticket from $6 (euro5) to $10 (euro8), but the new ticket will allow visitors unlimited entry for a week to the new downtown gallery, an older exhibit space the museum maintains in a trolley station just across the street and to the original MCASD museum, long a favorite among art lovers for its spectacular Pacific Ocean views.
The main museum will continue to showcase special exhibits and displays from the permanent collection, which includes pieces by Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt.
Visitors under 25 will get into all three facilities for free, Castle said.
"The objective of the policy is to encourage people to come back often," he said.


Updated : 2021-05-14 10:39 GMT+08:00