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‘Temporary Contemporary’ Museum : Horton Plaza Loans Space to New Art Center

San Diego County Arts Editor

The San Diego Art Center will have its own “temporary contemporary” exhibition space in Horton Plaza by the beginning of August, now that plaza developer Ernest W. Hahn Inc. has agreed to lease commercial space to the proposed museum for two years at $1 a year.

The Art Center, which plans to make its permanent home in the renovated Balboa Theater by mid-1987, will occupy 9,100 square feet of temporary space just east of the plaza’s main staircase. The area will house the museum’s offices, a bookstore and 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Thus, the fledgling art museum --which will specialize in architecture and design displays, in addition to modern art--will be able to mount shows and, more importantly, cultivate an audience well before it opens its Balboa facility on the eastern edge of the plaza. The concept echoes the successful plan of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, which has preceded its move into a permanent site by mounting shows in its “Temporary Contemporary” warehouse gallery.

“It will give us visibility, it will put us on the map. We’re no longer something being talked about and questioned--instead, we’re here,” said Sebastian (Lefty) Adler, Art Center director. “This (early opening) will bury a lot of rumors.” (Theater preservationists have strongly opposed the Art Center plans for the Balboa, but so far the City Council has supported the project.)

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According to development director Terry Hughes, the Art Center offices, now at 401 West A St., could be moved into the Horton Plaza space by July 15, and have its first exhibition coincide with the plaza’s Aug. 9 grand opening. Adler said the exhibition would feature German Expressionist paintings from the holdings of prominent local collector--and Art Center board member--Vance Kondon.

The second exhibition will feature Kondon’s post-World War II artworks, including paintings by Americans Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman, and Dutchmen Ab Dekkers and Jan Dibbets. Adler also promised another exhibit, traveling here in 1986 from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, of original artwork for wine labels by such famous artists as Picasso, Matisse and Warhol, plus “one or two surprise exhibits.”

In addition, Adler said that he had hired Sally Rainwater, former manager of the Newport Harbor Art Museum bookstore, to stock the Art Center bookstore, emphasizing architecture and design publications. Adler also is considering having celebrated modern artist James Turrell or Bruce Nauman produce a large-scale piece for the wall of the passageway from Horton Plaza to the Balboa Theater.

Hughes said the Hahn company will not charge the Art Center for operating costs in the temporary space and that the exhibition program and improvements for the Art Center’s space could be mounted at relatively low cost.

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“My guess is that improvements will cost between $50,000 and $75,000,” Hughes said. “We haven’t received any bids yet, but we’re looking at very temporary improvements in partitions, lighting, the kinds of walls that would lend themselves to smaller exhibitions. Since all of these would have to come out in a couple of years, we don’t want to spend a lot of money, which makes it easier.”

Hughes was confident that the “instant traffic” generated by the plaza opening would assure profits for the museum bookstore.


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