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Orange County Museum of Art launches acquisitions initiative

A woman in a business suit stands in a construction site.
Museum director Heidi Zuckerman at the construction site of the new Orange County Museum of Art in May 2021.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Museum of Art — which aims to open its $93-million, Thom Mayne-designed building on Oct. 8 at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts — announced two key hires earlier this week: chief curator Courtenay Finn and director of learning and engagement Meagan Burger.

On Wednesday, the museum launched an ambitious acquisitions initiative. “60 for 60” has set the goal of acquiring 60 new works of art to celebrate the museum’s 60th anniversary and to mark the opening of the new building.

The initiative encapsulates director Heidi Zuckerman’s vision for OCMA, which is about “looking back to look forward,” she tells The Times.

“You really only get this opportunity to build a new museum, likely, once in an institution’s history,” Zuckerman says. “It’s an opportunity to fill in past gaps.”

At the same time, she adds, new acquisitions will include artists already represented in the museum’s collection or those who have exhibited at the museum in the past but were not collected at the time. Also included will be artists represented in upcoming exhibitions.

The contemporary art museum’s collection consists of more than 4,500 works by California and Pacific Rim artists. It highlights important movements with SoCal roots, such as Light and Space, Pop art, Minimalism, California conceptualism, and early and midcentury modernism. While the museum has deep holdings of some artists, such as John Baldessari, Charles Ray and Ed Ruscha, a recent collection analysis showed glaring holes, Zuckerman says.

“The percentages of works by male artists versus female artists — probably in keeping with most museums — it’s around 75-25,” Zuckerman says. “So a big part of my initiative is to collect works by female artists. And, of course, artists of color.”

Zuckerman says the museum has been the beneficiary of several substantial gifts over the years of work by artists of color. “But this is a great opportunity for us to build on that,” she adds.

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OCMA’s new building, more than a decade in the works, will nearly double exhibition space to 25,000 square feet — hence the acquisitions campaign.

On Zuckerman’s wish list? A Catherine Opie surfer. And some of what she calls “the lesser known but really interesting female artists from Northern California,” such as Joan Brown and Jay DeFeo. “We have works by them in the collection, but I’d love to have more,” she says.

Zuckerman, a California-bred, avid hiker, has said the outdoors is integral to her vision for the museum. The design of the new building is particularly indoor-outdoor, with multiple skylights, retractable walls, more than 10,000 square feet of green space and an outdoor plaza accommodating up to 1,000 people. And Zuckerman intends to display artworks, including paintings, outside.

“And we’re working on a major site-specific commission that will be revealed on the sculpture terrace on the upper plaza when we open,” she says.

Meantime, construction of the new building is nearly complete and the building campaign now stands at $67 million.

When it opens, OCMA’s general admission will be free for the first 10 years, underwritten by a $2.5-million gift from Newport Beach-based Lugano Diamonds.

The inaugural special exhibition will be a resurrection of the museum’s California Biennial, which began in 1984. “California Biennial 2022,” co-curated by Elizabeth Armstrong, Essence Harden and Gilbert Vicario, will include painting, sculpture and photography, as well as music, design, fashion and interactive installations.

Zuckerman will curate a reinstallation of the permanent collection, “13 Women,” a nod to the museum’s founding women. OCMA’s Cassandra Coblentz will curate “Fred Eversley: Reflecting Back (the World),” the artist’s first West Coast museum retrospective since 1978.

Both Finn and Burger worked with Zuckerman at the Aspen Art Museum before moving on to other institutions. Finn comes to OCMA from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, where she held the post of chief curator. She starts in March. Burger, who joined OCMA in October, came from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, where she served as the manager of adult learning.

“It feels really exciting,” says Zuckerman, who assumed her post in February 2021, “to be able to lead this transformation of an institution at a time when there’s just so much uncertainty in the world — it feels really great to be able to deliver on something as promised.”


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