Three years ago, the Mingei International Museum embarked on a major transformation in an effort to reconnect its art and architecture with its immediate context in San Diego’s famed Balboa Park. Led by local architecture firm LUCE et studio, the renovation of the 106-year-old building is now complete, and the museum will open its doors to the public on September 3.
“As an institution,” said museum director and CEO Rob Sidner, “we approached this project as a combination of three essential and interrelated components connected to our mission: Access, Art and Architecture. We are confident that the new Mingei will be a cultural anchor in Balboa Park and a source of inspiration for the San Diego region and our national and international visitors.”
The opening will reveal, however, that the $55 million project was far more than a simple renovation. More than 10,000 square feet was added to the National Register of Historic Places-listed museum building, with the inclusion of exhibition and programming space, a theater, coffee bar, and education center. And while those additions will not be a continuation of the Mission Revival-style House of Charm building that the museum occupies, they will open the building up to access from within the park and its outer perimeter to create a more porous museum than was there before.
Along with its permanent mainstays such as Niki de Saint Phalle’s playful outdoor sculpture Nikigator, the Mingei, which was established in 1978 and is dedicated to the collection, conservation, and exhibition of global craft, design, and folk art, will introduce bold new artworks to its collection. The Dutch designer Petra Blaisse, for instance, was commissioned to produce a large curtain for the museum’s new theater, while a glass sculpture from American artist Dale Chihuly will be hung in the building’s preexisting bell tower.
Even Jennifer Luce, the founder and principal architect of LUCE et studio, will unveil two architectural installations produced in collaboration with A. Zahner/Zahner Labs: Suspended Refrain, a perforated metal ceiling on the ground floor recalling the roll of a player piano, and Hedgerow, a laser cut and hand-turned brass picket fence for the new public courtyard. “[A]s the design began to unfold,” Luce told the museum in a recent interview, “we infused an understanding that architects ‘make’ things and places that function, but that those functional elements can also be artfully crafted, in order to strengthen the experience.”
The reopening of the museum on September 3 will be the first of many cultural events taking place in the city, including the second annual San Diego Design Week beginning on September 8th.