Reopening August 15, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art Is Transformed Following $50 Million Renovation

  • June 12, 2021 15:02

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Rendering of SBMA’s renovated Ludington Court by Kupiec Architects PC courtesy SBMA.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) has announced the August 15, 2021 grand re-opening of its renewed and expanded galleries following a six-year, $50 million renovation, led by the Santa Barbara-based firm of Kupiec Architects PC and executed by Santa Maria-based Diani Corporation. Marking the Museum’s 80th anniversary this year, the renovation of SBMA’s original 1912 building improves SBMA’s exhibition space, making it possible to show more of the 27,000-object permanent collection, and will enhance visitor experience through improved flow through the Museum; newly created galleries dedicated to contemporary art, photography, and new media; and new LED lighting. The renovation addressed critical needs of the building, including seismic retrofitting; replacement of mechanical, air handling, and climate control systems; replacement of aging roofs; improved ventilation; creation of new storage and conservation areas to safeguard a growing collection; and construction of a new Art Receiving Facility and loading dock to ensure safe and efficient movement of art into and out of the building. Concluding the first two parts of a multi-phase master plan for the site, work to date has completed essential renovations and upgrades while expanding the scope of the Museum’s exhibitions, programs, and place as a 
public forum for the arts in Santa Barbara. 


“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, SBMA Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director and CEO. “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. We are grateful to SBMA’s generous donors and the Santa Barbara community for their support of the Museum to make this transformation possible. With rarely or never-before-exhibited works on view and revitalized spaces, we will continue using SBMA’s art and resources to transform and enrich the lives of people in our community and beyond.”

Lansdowne Hermes, Roman, first half of 2nd century CE. Marble. SBMA, Gift of Wright S. Ludington.

The transformation of the original 1912 structure highlights the restoration of original architectural features, including the rhythmic arches lining SBMA’s historic Ludington Court. This entry gallery contains limestone throughout, as does Thayer Gallery and the brand new Candace Dauphinot Grand Staircase, while other new galleries are appointed with rich oak flooring. 

Visitors will enter the State Street front doors to discover a brand-new installation conceived by SBMA Deputy Director and Chief Curator Eik Kahng, as a traditional salon-style hang with large-scale European and American paintings dating from the 17th century to the early 20th century intermixed with African and Pre-Columbian antiquities, as well as the Museum’s iconic monumental Roman marbles in Ludington Court. The Lansdowne Hermes, a dramatic new focal point, will be presented on 
a six-foot tall pedestal, echoing the intended elevation of the Greek original. The more intimate Thayer Gallery will showcase rotations of smaller objects. The inaugural selection includes ceramics from the ancient Americas and the ancient Mediterranean, spanning several thousand years. As visitors ascend the new grand staircase, they will encounter works focusing on the human face from a number of ancient civilizations.

The staircase and elevator access lead to a stunning new gallery—SBMA’s first space devoted to contemporary art, even though it has been a vital part of the Museum’s programming for the past 80 years. Skylit and suffused with soft sunlight, this new gallery's inaugural installation will feature a shining mirrored orb by Anish Kapoor, a neon piece by Laddie John Dill, Tony de Los Reyes’s 1851 (#3) (2011), a green and black acrylic lens by Frederick Eversley, and paintings by likes of Kori Newkirk, 
Dorothy Hood, Helen Frankenthaler, and Roger Shimomura, among others.

Unknown, Flemish, The Madness of Nebuchadnezzar, 1597-1681. Oil on canvas. SBMA, Gift of Wright S. Ludington.

Also on the second floor, Facing Forward: Portraits from the Collection, organized by SBMA Curator of Photography and New Media Charles Wylie, will present 25 works drawn from SBMA’s renowned collection of photographs. Featuring works by Kwame Brathwaite, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Genevieve Gaignard, and Tseng Kwong Chi, among others, the installation will provide a look at how the human face has remained a timeless and fascinating subject for modern and contemporary photographers.

A separate exhibition will be dedicated to photographer Inge Morath, one of the few women photographers to establish a career in the early 1950s as a member of the renowned Magnum Agency in Paris. The adjacent Ala Story Gallery will be devoted to new media. Its inaugural installation, Mediated Nature, will showcase video works from SBMA’s growing collection that explore how the contemporary experience of nature has been shaped and influenced by current media technologies. 
Works on view will include Diana Thater’s 2008 Untitled (Butterfly video wall #1); a digitally-derived still life painting and landscape-inspired videos by Petra Cortright, and two newly acquired videos of yellow-flowering plants by the Taiwanese artist Wu Chi-Tsung.

Dorothy Hood. Sea Elegy II, 1972. Oil on canvas. SBMA, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meredith J. Long. Copyright © Estate of Dorothy Hood.

Visitors interested in contemporary art will have additional opportunities for engagement in the new Gail Wasserman and Family Gallery, which leads to the newly renovated historic McCormick Gallery. These galleries will showcase In the Meanwhile…Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, which features paintings and sculptures added to the Museum’s collection by former SBMA curator Julie Joyce during the course of the renovation. While Southern Californian artists feature heavily, including Charles Garabedian, Noah Davis, Sterling Ruby, Jack Goldstein, Peter Halley, Zack Harris, Jim Isermann, Edward Kienholz, Daniel Douke, Brad Eberhard, Raffi Kalenderian, Robert Therrien, Frederick Hammersley, and Eamon Ore-Giron, there are also artists who add a national and global perspective, including Mustafa Hulusi, Jeni Spota, Cheryl Pope, Jane Wilbraham, Wim Delvoye, Kees Goudzwaard, Nigel Cooke, and Vernon Fisher.

The refreshed and newly configured Sterling Morton, Campbell, and Gould Galleries next to Ludington Court will showcase a selection of works from China, Japan, and Korea, drawn from the Museum’s extensive permanent Asian Art collection and organized by SBMA Elizabeth Atkins Curator of Asian Art Susan Tai. These works, which span 5,000 years and represent a wide range of materials, celebrate the region’s diversely rich aesthetics. Highlights on view will include ancient ritual bronze vessels, clay, stone, and wooden sculptures created for tombs, temples, and homes, paintings in the forms of scrolls and screens, woodblock prints, lacquers, ceramics, and textiles made for daily consumption. This presentation is part of the multi-phased Asian Art reinstallation. Selections of art from the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas will be installed in Emma Wood Gallery later in the year.

The refreshed and newly configured Sterling Morton, Campbell, and Gould Galleries next to Ludington Court will showcase a selection of works from China, Japan, and Korea.

The renovated Von Romberg Gallery and Emmons Gallery will feature FIRE, METAL, MONUMENT: BRONZE, an exhibition that explores the bronze medium across millennia and organized by SBMA Curator of Contemporary Art James Glisson. Divided into three sections, the first section features works from ancient China, the Middle East and the Greco-Roman world and will highlight the geographic range and sophistication of casting technologies across Eurasia. The second section explores portraiture and the depiction of movement including pairings of sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Willem de Kooning, which are displayed alongside sacred sculptures from Tibet. A third section considers bronze as a modern form of expression and includes work by Frederic Leighton, Alison Saar, and Louise Bourgeois.

SBMA will present a special exhibition dedicated to photographer Inge Morath.

The Preston Morton Gallery will feature highlights of American art from the permanent collection through a selection of 26 paintings and sculptures that tell the story of major achievements of American art from the first half of the last century—from the urban Realism of Robert Henri and the Ashcan School to the Symbolist inflected landscapes of Arthur Davies or Marsden Hartley, to the daring abstraction of Stuart Davis or Arthur Dove. The exhibition also emphasizes artists who have been critically overlooked in the past, including sculptors Malvina Hoffman and Alice Carr de Creeft, African American and pioneering queer artist Richmond Barthé, and the Japanese-born artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

In Ridley-Tree Gallery, a refreshed installation from the permanent collection highlights the dialogue between European and American art through a selection of 43 works of art from 1755 to 1947, with the majority dating to the 19th century. The new SBMA Works on Paper Study Center will offer visitors a behind-the-scenes view into the process of researching and caring for the collection. The Study Center, located in the Davidson and Colefax Galleries, will allow curatorial staff to begin the long-awaited process of cataloguing, photographing, and digitizing over 20,000 works on paper that have been in off-site storage for several years. This project will vastly expand SBMA’s online collections, making it easier to learn more about the Museum’s world-class collection. Additionally, regularly scheduled “office hours” will enable visitors to interact with and pose questions to curators in the Center. 

The Center’s first installation will feature watercolors by Picasso emulator Eugene Berman, lithographs by Pop artist James Rosenquist, and color prints by Los Angeles photographer Karen Halverson. The Center celebrates the ways in which these delicate and precious works offer unique insights into the artistic process, from the intimacy of drawing and painting on paper, to the technical innovations of printmaking and photography.

Diana Thater, Untitled (Butterfly video wall #1), 1998. Flat panel monitors, DVD player, synchronizer and orange gels. SBMA, Museum purchase, the Suzette Morton Davidson Art Acquisition Endowment Fund. ©Diana Thater

Throughout the extensive renovation project, portions of the Museum have remained accessible, with exhibitions and programs continuing during the renovation and through online programming during months of COVID-19 closure which ended in May 2021. 

SBMA will present Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources from February 27 to May 22, 2022. The exhibition will explore the visual imagination of Van Gogh, one of the most beloved artists in the world, by placing his works in dialogue alongside some 90 objects that reflect his surprisingly varied interests. 

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is one of the finest museums on the West coast and is celebrated for the superb quality of its permanent collection. Its mission is to integrate art into the lives of people through internationally recognized exhibitions and special programs, as well as the thoughtful presentation of its permanent collection. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA. 805.963.4364


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