The Santa Barbara Museum of Art reopens after a six-year, $50 million renovation

Coastal Refresh

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art reopens after a six-year, $50 million renovation

The renovated State Street entrance at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. (Tony J. Mastres/Courtesy SBMA)

Just in time for its 80th anniversary, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) celebrated its grand reopening on August 15 after a dramatic, six-years-in-the-making revamp headed by New York City-founded, Santa Barbara-based Kupiec Architects.

Some sections of the museum, which is situated in a historic 1912 Italianate building at La Arcada Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara that previously housed the city’s main post office, remained open and accessible to the public during the exhaustive $50 million renovation process (apart from its temporary, months-long closure during the pandemic). However, this week marks the first time that visitors to the storied cultural institution on California’s Central Coast will be able to experience the reimagined SBMA in full, including a renovated State Street entrance, newly created galleries dedicated to contemporary art, photography, and new media, and refreshed and reconfigured existing galleries that allow the museum to show more of its 25,000-object permanent collection.

an empty museum gallery space
Ludington Court Looking toward the McCormick Gallery. (Courtesy SBMA)
rendering of art on display salon-style in a a gallery
Rendering of the renovated Ludington Court with its new installation on display. (Courtesy SBMA)

The original museum building, which was converted into an art space by Chicago-based architect David Adler in the years following the departure of the Santa Barbara Post Office, has undergone a number of renovations and expansions over the decades, including in the 1940s and ’60s and, most significantly, the 1980s and ’90s.

“We are thrilled once again to open our historic main entrance on State Street and welcome the community into a re-envisioned SBMA,” said Larry J. Feinberg, the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director and CEO of the SBMA, in a statement. “We can’t wait to share old favorites from the collection after years in storage and to present new exhibitions and installations that will help visitors understand the collection in a new light.”

In addition to its new gallery spaces and other public areas, the newly unveiled overhaul, which concludes the first two parts of a multi-phase master plan for the site first announced in 2015, entailed extensive behind-the-scenes upgrades to bring the museum up to 21st-century operational standards. These efforts included crucial seismic retrofitting, the installation of new HVAC and mechanical systems, a new roof, storage and conservation areas, and the construction of an Art Receiving Facility that includes a freight elevator and loading dock. Future phases will further expand and renovate the museum’s galleries and improve visitor amenities while also giving way to new spaces including a rooftop garden and pavilion as well as new office space. Renovations to the museum cafe and gift shop and the auditorium are also planned for down the line.

a limestone-clad staircase in a museum building
The Candace Dauphinot Grand Staircase (Courtesy SBMA)

Joining Kupiec Architects on the core renovation team was Diani Building Corp., based in nearby Santa Maria, as project contractor.

Public-facing highlights of the highly anticipated refresh include a new installation gracing the historic Ludington Court, the museum’s soaring, limestone-clad arrival gallery. Conceived by Eik Kahng, chief curator and deputy director of the SBMA, the installation is executed as a salon-style hanging comprised of European and American paintings dating from the 17th century to the early 20th century, intermixed with African and Pre-Columbian antiquities. Joining these pieces in the Ludington Court is the museum’s renowned collection of monumental Roman marble statuary with the Lansdowne Hermes, situated atop a six-foot-tall pedestal, serving as an arresting new focal point as visitors enter the museum through the revamped State Street entrance.

Traveling up to the second floor via the new Candace Dauphinot Grand Staircase (or by elevator) into what was once attic space, museumgoers will find a skylit contemporary art-dedicated gallery featuring pieces by Anish Kapoor, Laddie John Dill, Tony de Los Reyes, Frederick Eversley, Kori Newkirk, Dorothy Hood, and others. As the SBMA points out in a press release, the museum has long exhibited works of contemporary art but, until now, has lacked a devoted space to do so. Also on the second floor is a new gallery dedicated to photography that opened with Facing Forward: Portraits from the Collection and a separate exhibition showcasing the work of the Austria-born photographer Inge Morath. On view in the adjacent, new media-devoted Ala Story Gallery is an exhibition of video works titled Mediated Nature.

an empty gallery space with skylight
The new second-floor gallery dedicated to contemporary art. (Courtesy SBMA)
rendering of visitors observing art in a gallery space
Rendering of the second-floor contemporary art gallery. (Courtesy SBMA)

Additional works of contemporary art can be found in the Gail Wasserman and Family Gallery and renovated McCormick Gallery, which together serve as the backdrop for In the Meanwhile…Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, an exhibition showcasing paintings and sculpture with an emphasis on Southern Californian artists. These works were added to the Museum’s permanent collection by former SBMA curator Julie Joyce during the renovation process. Back on the first floor, on view in the reconfigured and revamped Sterling Morton, Campbell, and Gould Galleries, are pieces drawn from the museum’s expansive permanent collection of Asian art. Showing in the renovated Von Romberg and Emmons Galleries is FIRE, METAL, MONUMENT: BRONZE, a three-section exhibition that “explores the bronze medium across millennia.” Additional new and refreshed installations can be found in the Preston Morton Gallery and the Ridley-Tree Gallery while the Davidson and Colefax Galleries are now home to the new Works on Paper Study Center, a space providing visitors with an inside glimpse into the museum’s curatorial processes.

A new special exhibition that’s sure to draw crowds, Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources, is set to open at the SBMA on February 27, 2022.

The SBMA is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with evening hours on Thursdays. Advance ticketing reservations are strongly encouraged, and facial coverings must be worn in accordance with county and state public health guidelines.