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Oakland Museum of California Reopens with Dramatic Presentation of Collections
OMCA’s groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California’s cultural heritage. Photo: © Tim Griffith.

OAKLAND, CA.- On May 1, 2010, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) welcomes back the public with a dramatically different presentation of its renowned collections of California art and history. Created in 1969 as a “museum for the people,” OMCA revives its founding vision by introducing innovative exhibitions and programming, setting a new paradigm for the way a museum engages the public. OMCA’s transformation is enhanced by a full renovation and expansion of its iconic building.

OMCA’s groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California’s cultural heritage. Visitors will be invited to actively participate in the Museum as they learn about the natural, artistic, and social forces that affect the state and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. The Museum celebrates the reopening with an Opening Celebration Weekend, featuring 31 hours of free programming—from Saturday, May 1 at 11 am through Sunday, May 2 at 6 pm—that honors the pioneering and creative spirit of the state and underscores the Museum’s unique multidisciplinary mission. The Opening Celebration Weekend is presented by Target.

“We are thrilled to invite the public into a dynamic exchange of ideas relating to this wonderful, multidimensional state,” said Lori Fogarty, OMCA’s executive director. “We have created a more participatory museum that encourages visitors to contribute to special exhibits and provide feedback, with galleries that are designed to accommodate change and new perspectives. Just like California, the Museum will continue to evolve.”

When OMCA reopens, it will present for the first time a number of important recent acquisitions to the Art and History departments, including works that illustrate the growth of the contemporary art collection, particularly installation-based work; media; design; historic and contemporary photography; and objects that reflect California’s global connections.

Inside the Transformed Museum: Telling the Many Stories of California
The revitalization of the Oakland Museum of California builds on the founders’ original multidisciplinary and civic-minded vision by improving integration of OMCA’s collections and programs, strengthening its role as a public forum, and creating new opportunities for visitor participation. Highlights include:

• Art, history, and natural science exhibits that feature visitor-generated content with stories and themes that are developed with input from, and content provided by, Californians

• Installations that provide multiple perspectives on California art, history, and nature, complemented by first-person narrative labels and visitor voices in other interpretive media

• Flexible displays that will change and evolve over time, in response to visitor feedback and current events

• Unconventional exhibition design that draws on the aesthetic of theater stage sets, using contemporary building materials such as plywood to create an overtly constructed environment in which the artifacts and the visitors are the main actors

• Exhibitions that reflect the experiences of different migrant groups, supported by multilingual wall text in English, Spanish, and Chinese, a reflection of Oakland and California’s demographics

• "Transparent" wall text that provides insight into research and choices by curators, conservators and other Museum staff

New Acquisitions and Site-Specific Commissions
Many new acquisitions will be on display throughout the redesigned galleries. In particular, new acquisitions in the Art Department will be featured in the Art “Open Space” galleries. As part of its transformation, OMCA identified key areas for collection growth in order to deepen and build upon existing strengths while expanding in new directions. The development of the contemporary art collection will continue to be an important focus in the future, with an emphasis on installation-based work and art that illustrates California’s global connections.

For the first time, the Museum now has a dedicated space for media works. This new exhibition area showcases a recently acquired digital piece by San Francisco artist and animator Kota Ezawa. In 2007, the Museum received 275 works of contemporary California art from theTed and Ruth Nash, a gift that strengthened OMCA’s already robust collection of California ceramics.

Acquisitions on view in the new Gallery of California History include a border crossing sign from Caltrans, the state’s transportation department, typical of those installed along the California–Mexico border. The sign will be installed in the contemporary section of the Gallery to reflect the continued migration of people from Mexico to California and the ongoing connection between the two countries.

Visitors will also encounter several new works commissioned by OMCA, including a large-scale wall installation in the Gallery of California Art by painter and graffiti artist Barry McGee, as well as several temporary installations throughout the Museum’s campus. Canned Spinach, a work by celebrated landscape architect Walter Hood, will welcome visitors using the new Oak Street entrance with a mono-crop of spinach planted in a field of galvanized “cans” that will grow over time and supply the new Museum café. The interactive piece references Oakland’s history as a center of fruit and vegetable canning. A second installation by Hood and a site-specific work by Oakland-based artist Chris Kubick make thematic and visual connections between spaces within the Museum and its renowned gardens.

The Gallery of California Art will showcase more than 800 works from OMCA’s collection—one of the largest and most comprehensive holdings of California art in the world. The Gallery of California Art is installed along three main themes: California Land, California People, and California Creativity.

Specific galleries showcase special strengths of the collection, and include:

• 19th-century painting, photography, and Gold Rush era daguerreotypes

• California ceramics, including the important Nash Collection bequest from 2007 with works by Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, and Peter Voulkos, all on view for the first time

• Turn-of-the-century Arts & Crafts

• 20th century photography, from the f/64 school to contemporary environmental photography

• Single-artist spaces that provide in-depth views of works by Richard Diebenkorn and Dorothea Lange

The Gallery will also feature opportunities for visitors to explore their own creativity through exhibit components such as an interactive "draw your own portrait" station and a "looking closer" self-guided viewing experience of an individual work of art, Albert Bierstadt’s “Yosemite Valley.”

The overarching theme of the Gallery of California History is Coming to California. It showcases more than 2,200 historical artifacts, works of art, ethnographic materials, and original photographs to illuminate the influence of successive waves of migration—from the earliest Natives, to settlers during the Spanish and Mexican periods, to more recent immigrants and their interactions with people who arrived before them.

Four sub-themes guide the Gallery’s presentation:

• the remarkably diverse identities of the state’s people

• the relationship of people to the environment

• the contrast between the myth of innovation, freedom, and self-fulfillment and the often conflicting realities of the “California Dream”

• California’s global connections

Oral histories and storytelling play a prominent role throughout the Gallery. OMCA is experimenting with a range of technologies, such as digital interactive exhibits and audio stations, to encourage visitors to contribute their own storylines.

The new Gallery of California Natural Sciences (to open in 2012) will explore California as a “hotspot,” a place that ranks among the greatest in the world in biological and geological diversity but whose ecosystems also suffer from enormous pressures—urbanization, pollution, and invasive species, among others. The Gallery will focus on several specific locations in California, not only reflecting the enormous breadth of California’s habitats, but featuring current scientific research and conservation initiatives underway in these special places. The Museum’s exquisite habitat dioramas and cases will be revitalized with new technologies, visitor-contributed content, and cultural connections to reveal current California environmental and conservation stories. Exhibits, interactive displays, learning stations, and insights from scientists and local residents will inspire visitors to learn more about California environments, visit them, and get involved in their protection.

Connections among the Collections
The new installations further integrate OMCA’s collections of art, history, and natural sciences, creating fresh juxtapositions of works from different collection areas and making stronger connections among the galleries. For example, Dorothea Lange’s photographs are explored in the Gallery of California Art, and appear again in the Gallery of California History in a section exploring why the federal government sponsored documentary artists in the 1930s, as well as the impact her work had on policy-makers.

OMCA’s renovation and expansion has been designed by the San Francisco architectural firm of Mark Cavagnero Associates, honoring the original architecture and landscape vision of Kevin Roche and Dan Kiley, while upgrading visitor amenities, building systems, and further integrating the museum experience. Enhancements encompass new exhibition and programming space, a new café, enhanced 300-seat theater and 70-seat lecture hall, and an expanded store. A new 90-foot stainless steel canopy over the Oak Street entrance enhances OMCA’s street presence and creates a new “front door” to the Museum’s seven-acre campus.

Sheryl Wong, OMCA Foundation Trustee and Chair of the Museum of California Campaign, announced that the Museum has reached its $62.2 million capital campaign goal for the transformation. In addition to broad-based support from the Bay Area philanthropic community, the Museum’s innovative approach to the presentation of its collections and to its public programming has been recognized by a number of leading national foundations and government agencies as creating new models for the field. “We are delighted to celebrate the achievement of our campaign goal as we open our doors to the public on May 1 and 2,” says Wong. “We want to particularly thank the citizens of Oakland for their support of Measure G that provided the seed funding for this project. However, our fundraising doesn’t end here. We will continue to invite and welcome support for the campaign through the end of December 2010. We still have a ‘wish list’ of elements we would like to complete, and we believe when the community sees what this campaign has made possible, they will want to be part of this remarkable effort.”

Oakland Museum of California | Lori Fogarty | Sheryl Wong |

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