Now Open: The Big Orange

Heidi Zuckerman, director and CEO of the brand-new Orange County Museum of Art, looks back to move forward.

heidi zuckerman, director and ceo of the orange county museum of art
Heidi Zuckerman, director and CEO of the Orange County Museum of Art.
Dustin Snipes

Southern California’s reputation as a rich center for contemporary art gets a boost this October with the opening of the Orange County Museum of Art at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Pritzker award–winning architect Thom Mayne’s gleaming, multilevel structure includes a park, a light-filled atrium and galleries, and impressive stairs similar to those at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mayne has called them “a social conduit,” saying, “We were interested in developing a very urban idea in a suburban environment.” The 53,000-square-foot building replaces what was previously known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum, shuttered in 2018.

Director and CEO Heidi Zuckerman, who was appointed in January 2021 and is highly respected for her former role as director of the Aspen Art Museum, nods to local history with her opening show, 13 Women, a multigenerational presentation of art from the permanent collection that includes Vija Celmins, Mary Corse, and Mary Heilmann. The artists will rotate in over the course of the year and will also include Alexis Smith. The show title’s number 13 refers to the women who in 1962 founded the Balboa Pavilion Gallery, the precursor to both the Newport Harbor Art Museum and OCMA. That first venue had a reputation for cutting-edge shows, including the early work of multimedia artist Chris Burden, who spent some time as the gallery’s preparator. Zuckerman says, “My overall mission and vision for the institution is to look back to move forward. It wouldn’t be appropriate to open this building—60 years to the year that we first opened—without acknowledging the 13 visionary women who started the museum.”

OCMA is dedicating another show to Fred Eversley, an artist whose minimalist resin sculptures made him a force within Southern California’s Light and Space movement. A monumental sculpture by Sanford Biggers was commissioned for the plaza and will be unveiled at the museum’s opening.

In addition, the museum is bringing back its predecessor’s popular California Biennial, with works selected by Elizabeth Armstrong, an organizer of three earlier biennials, with Gilbert Vicario and Essence Harden. Zuckerman notes that the museum first hosted a biennial in 1984: “It was really important to me that when we open this big, beautiful, new building, we have these kind of markers of our history.”

Zuckerman says her personal goal is for museums to be for everyone. This includes OCMA, where she scored a victory by securing, through sponsorship, free admission for its first decade.•

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the author of Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s and Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe, has written numerous books and articles on modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on California and the West.
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