This weekend’s festivities to celebrate the re-opening of the Oakland Museum of California was a testament to everything that is great about Oakland and also a welcome look into what the next generation of museums and art engagement will look like.
Oakland has accomplished what many other cities did not. It maintained and expanded its beautiful art museum without sacrificing exhibition space for architectural ego. The Oakland Museum of California was closed for 28 months for a $58 million renovation and reinstallation. The original building, groundbreaking with its naturalized planted terraces, built in 1969 by Kevin Roche, was a series of concrete structures that mirrored the nearby topography. The museum’s challenge was to expand the galleries within the overall footprint without compromising the intent and effect of the landscape architecture.
The new updates include; sculpture and roof gardens designed by Dan Kiley and a new top floor with an expansive California art collection. The spirit of the collection puts a Grace Hudson atmospheric depiction of a Pomo Indian in proximity to Mel Ramos’ larger than life centerfold fantasia as well as to Richard Diebenkorn’s abstracted landscapes and generations of assorted carvings and macrame.
The art collection is installed thematically and actively seeks to engage through the use of questions and interactive art projects. A particular fun example of this was the “Is It Art? Lounge,” where museum goers can grab pink and green tickets marked with either yes or no and vote on 3 pieces decide for themselves if what they are looking at is art or not.
For the celebration, the museum opened its doors Saturday morning for 31 hours straight – in honor of California’s status as the 31st state. An exhaustive list of multi-sensory around-the-clock activities were planned. Night owls were encouraged to stay and wear their pajamas. I found myself walking through crowded galleries with gutsy attendees wandering in their robes at 9 PM. This spirit of interactivity was clearly catching; everyone felt like neighbors and they eagerly discussed the art and got up close and personal.
While I was unable to catch the 8 AM Yoga class on Sunday, I did go to the Indian Bangara dancing where I was amazed to see hundreds of people in a multi-purpose room like setting swarm the area around the stage to learn some Bollywood moves. I finally left at 11pm when the incoming traffic seemed to outnumber the departing. The arriving grandmas just made me smile. How awesome to see a Museum as a true meeting place for all people to interact.