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Irvine Museum Collection exhibits popular works from the past as it plans for move to UCI

Dike, Phil- Sail Symphony
Philip Dike’s “Sail Symphony” is one of the works on display at the “Drawing on the Past: Works on Paper” exhibition at the Irvine Museum.
(Courtesy of Irvine Museum Collection)

The Irvine Museum Collection is drawing on the past, yet eagerly awaiting the future.

The 25-year-old museum is showcasing “Drawing on the Past: Works on Paper” through Oct. 4. The exhibition features drawings, pastels, watercolors and etchings from the 1880s to 2013. Many are from California’s most accomplished artists, including Paul Grimm, Phil Dike, Emil Kosa Jr., Arthur Rider and Cindy Baron.

In the spring, the museum will move to an interim location on California Avenue in the research section of the UCI campus — by the medical school, according to those familiar with the project.

If all goes according to plan, the Irvine Museum Collection will find a permanent home on campus in three to four years, becoming part of the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art (IMCA). The 100,000-square-foot building will be located on Campus Drive, next door to the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Currently, a parking lot and rose garden take up that space.


The project is expected to cost between $150 million and $200 million, said Stephen Barker, executive director of the UCI IMCA.

“We are strongly and energetically encouraged (by UCI) to make this a shorter project rather than a longer one,” said Barker, who is also dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. “We have all this wonderful California art, and we’re wanting desperately to get the work on campus and get it shown.”

In October 2016, arts patron Joan Irvine Smith and her son, James Irvine Swinden, president of the Irvine Museum, donated the museum’s precious collection of California Impressionist paintings to UCI. The gift of 1,200 works was valued at $17 million — at the time UCI’s largest single gift of art.

In November 2017, the trust of Gerald E. Buck, a Newport Beach developer who died in 2013, donated the Buck Collection — valued at tens of millions of dollars — to UCI. The collection of 3,200 works covers much of mainstream 20th century California art, including Impressionism, hard-edge abstraction, California scene and social realism.


These unprecedented gifts of California art led to the formation of not just a museum, but an institute, which will incorporate a research and study center, a conservation lab, a museum studies program and the ability to connect to UCI’s 40,000 students through each of its schools, Barker said.

“Because of where we are on the campus [at the northern entrance], we want to attract everybody from the campus and from the region,” he said.

UCI has already approved the hiring of an IMCA museum director, and the job will be posted “some time in the next few weeks,” Barker said.

Eventually, the organization will seek an institute director as well.

To give the public a taste of what’s coming, UCI is presenting “First Glimpse: Introducing the Buck Collection,” Sept. 29-Jan. 5, 2019. The exhibit, sponsored by the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, will include highlights from the Buck Collection and will be on display in the University Art Gallery and the Contemporary Arts Center Gallery. Admission will be free.

Watercolors: A popular medium

The idea to do a “works on paper” exhibition didn’t emerge from thin air. Five years ago, the Irvine Museum hosted a watercolors show, and it proved popular.

“We routinely get requests for more watercolors,” said Jean Stern, founding director of the museum and director of the Irvine Museum Collection. He will continue with that role at the new IMCA.

“I know there are a lot of painters who are either students, amateurs or non-professionals that paint in watercolor,” he said. “It’s a very easy medium to handle, you don’t need a big studio, and there’s not much cleanup involved.”


Highlights from this show include a watercolor on paper of sailboats (“Sail Symphony”) by Philip Dike; etchings of the California missions by Henry Chapman Ford; a vibrant watercolor landscape, “Descending Flight (Hills of Mendocino),” by Millard Sheets; and a series of dark charcoal portraits (circa 1912) by Paul Grimm.

On a couple of occasions — Frank Myers’ “The Tree” (c. 1935) and Arthur Ryder’s “Morning in Taxaco” (1939) — an initial drawing is placed next to a completed oil on canvas. These juxtapositions indicate that the drawing can be an important step toward completing a more sophisticated work later.

The most recent piece is “Window,” a 2013 pastel on paper by Sally Strand. The artist depicts her mother washing a kitchen window from the outside, and one can see the streaks and blurs that occur in the glass in the process, which is an impressive effect.

After this exhibit closes, the Irvine Museum anticipates hosting one more show in its ground-floor, Airport Tower location for four months, closing for a few months, and then joining the interim IMCA on campus in 2019.

“It’s wonderful because of the stability of the university, the reach of the university, and it’ll also have the institute,” Stern said. “It’s not just a museum. It’s going to be a big addition to the art community in Southern California.”

If You Go

What: “Drawing on the Past: Works on Paper”

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Oct. 4

Where: The Irvine Museum Collection, 18881 Von Karman Ave., Suite 100, Irvine


Cost: Free

Information: (949) 476-0294 or visit

Richard Chang is a contributor to Times Community News.