Oakland Museum of California will unveil its campus refresh in June after lengthy closure

A Golden Return

Oakland Museum of California will unveil its campus refresh in June after lengthy closure

With its landmark multi-terraced campus freshly renovated and ready to be enjoyed, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) has announced it will reopen to the public on June 18 after a protracted closure that, not too dissimilar from Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum, was due to a combination of planned construction work and the COVID-19 crisis.

Like OMCA’s substantial phased renovation and expansion project that necessitated shuttering museum galleries from 2009 through 2013, the exteriors-focused campus overhaul also involved San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero Associates as project architect, this time working with MacArthur Fellowship-winning landscape architect, artist, and urban designer Walter Hood of Oakland’s Hood Design Studio.

Aerial view of OMCA’s famously steeped, stair-heavy campus. (©2021 Tim Griffith. All rights reserved)

While OMCA visitors will return to a museum that’s more familiar than not, they will notice alterations and additions to the campus including newly planted terrace gardens, improved accessibility, a new Tanya Holland-helmed cafe (opening later this summer), reinstalled sculptures from the museum’s collection, and outdoor furniture—seating, tables, and more—designed by Oakland-based artist Binta Ayofemi. Dubbed Portals, Ayofemi’s series of Oakland-inspired outdoor furnishings are “intended to encourage a more comfortable and longer visitor experience,” according to the museum. OMCA has also announced that opening later this summer will be the museum’s first major temporary exhibition since its closure: Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism.

Famed for its lush gardens, expansive lawn, koi pond and reflecting pool, and terrace-topped tri-level museum building constructed from concrete and glass, OMCA’s seven-acre lakefront campus was originally designed by Kevin Roche in collaboration with landscape architects Dan Kiley and Geraldine Knight Scott, with the latter overseeing the plantings. In 1995, 26 years after it first opened to the public, the park-like modernist museum complex was listed as an Oakland Designated Landmark. (The Cultural Landscape Foundation has an excellent overview of the OMCA campus landscape.)

aerial view of a grass terraced landscape
The OMCA campus is a particularly verdant modernist landmark designed by Kevin Roche and Dan Kiley. (©2021 Tim Griffith. All rights reserved)

As for OMCA itself, the interdisciplinary Bay Area institution is focused exclusively on the art and design, history, and natural sciences hailing from and relating to the Golden State; the museum’s collection of design objects and painting from the American Craftsman movement is of particular note. OMCA, formerly known as simply the Oakland Museum, was established in the mid-1960s following the merger of three different Oakland-based museums: the Snow Museum of Natural History, Oakland Public Museum, and the Oakland Art Gallery.

At its 1969 opening, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in the New York Times of the landscape-integrated, three-in-one museum: “In terms of design and environment the Oakland Museum may be one of the most thoughtfully revolutionary structures in the world.”

A view of the central museum courtyard and sculpture. (©2021 Tim Griffith. All rights reserved)

As for the renovation particulars, the Hood- and Cavagnero-led design team, which began the project in the fall of 2019, oversaw several major campus enhancements including the removal of a border wall along the museum’s northern side, the creation of a new entrance that opens up the campus along the 12th Street, and improved pedestrian accessibility along 10th Street.

The museum’s 26,400-square-feet of gardens are now also home to completely new native plantings; each garden represents—botanically speaking— a distinct ecoregion of California. “Upgrades to the infrastructure will better integrate the gardens with the in-gallery exhibitions and activities and make OMCA’s outdoor sculptures, which have been reinstalled, more visible,” explained the museum in a news release. Ruth Asawa, Viola Frey, Betty Gold, Bruce Beasley, Peter Voulkos, and Beniamino Bufano are among the California artists with sculptures (some of which were spiffed-up as part of the campus makeover) populating the landscape.

(©2021 Tim Griffith. All rights reserved)

Per the museum, $15 million in restricted funds raised as part of the $85 million All In! The Campaign for OMCA capital campaign went toward the soon-to-debut campus revitalization.

“We are thrilled to finally be reopening, and to welcome back the community that has done so much to help sustain us during this challenging time,” said OMCA director and CEO Lori Fogarty in a statement. “We’re excited to share the updates that have taken place on campus during the closure, which have enhanced the Museum’s role as a public gathering place by creating new spaces for the community to convene.”

Following its June 18 reopening, OMCA will observe initial operating hours of 11:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays. Admission on the first three days of its reopening with be free to the community.