The biggest construction project in 15 years for an Orange County arts institution is steadily taking shape at one of O.C.’s cultural hot spots — the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Museum of Art’s new, $93 million building is 70% complete. It’s scheduled to open Oct. 8, 2022, in about a year. As construction progresses, the architectural design and museum leadership team felt confident enough to give members of the media a hard hat tour on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

The gallery spaces are developing definition, and a second-level roof terrace is complete enough to hold a sold-out “Art Sense” gala there Friday for hundreds of patrons and supporters. Elements of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne’s design are sharpening into focus, including unusually angled steel beams, smoothened concrete work, tiles and a lima bean-shaped window on the second floor — in honor of what the land used to be, a lima bean field.

A rendering of the front entrance of the new building for the Orange County Museum of Art. The second floor includes a window shaped as a lima bean in honor of the museum’s past land use as a lima bean field. The window looks into the education room. Credit: Image courtesy of Morphosis
On the left, the interior of the education room is taking shape as construction continues on the new Orange County Museum of Art building. OCMA’s CEO and director Heidi Zuckerman leads a hard hat tour through the building which is set to open next year. Credit: DREW A. KELLEY, Contributing Photographer. On the right, a rendering of OCMA’s new education room where classes, workshops, and special performances can take place. Credit: Image courtesy of Morphosis.

“It’s the last piece of the cultural puzzle, and as many of you know, it was Henry Segerstrom’s dream” to have an art museum at Segerstrom Center, said Heidi Zuckerman, recently appointed CEO and director of the O.C. Museum of Art (OCMA). Henry Segerstrom, along with his family, were the landowners for generations and the arts patrons who donated land and tens of millions of dollars, helping to form the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

When complete, the OCMA building will be 53,000 square feet, with 25,000 square feet for exhibition galleries — about 50% more than the old location in Newport Beach. The new OCMA will include a multi-purpose education hall, a light-filled atrium, a museum store, a café, an outdoor terrace for gatherings, events or a sculpture garden, a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the terrace, and a grand exterior staircase, emulating the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

On the left, the grand exterior staircase is taking shape as OCMA’s CEO and director, Heidi Zuckerman, leads a tour of the construction site. Credit: DREW A. KELLEY, Contributing Photographer. On the right, a rendering of the staircase. Credit: Image courtesy of Morphosis

There have been some delays in the project due to the pandemic: disruptions in the supply chain, materials getting held up during transport; and setbacks in the “sequencing of timing,” according to project manager/principal and Morphosis partner Brandon Welling. The building was originally scheduled to open in 2021.

“Construction is all about sequencing,” he said. “Once one thing gets delayed, other things get delayed. The whole thing extended out a bit. Nobody really knew what to expect during this (pandemic). It’s taking longer, but nothing out of the margins of contingencies.”

A lot of materials were pre-purchased before the pandemic started. “That helped a lot,” Welling said.

Publicly reported costs have gone up as well, from $73 million to $75 million to $93 million now. But Zuckerman said she didn’t actually think it was an increase, but rather a matter of full reporting.

“The $75 million number didn’t include everything; $93 million is the all-in number,” she said. “That includes all the kitchen equipment, all the FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment). There were really separate budgets. There was the construction budget and the owner’s budget.

“The actual price of the museum didn’t really change, it was just the way it was being reported. For me, I think that it’s important that people know what the all-in number is, rather than just what the construction budget is.”

To date, more than $60 million has been raised for the building campaign.

While many aspects of the core structure are complete, and some of the exterior, silvery panels are done, much of the remaining exterior “skin” remains to be installed. When finished, the exterior will be “a façade of light-colored, undulating bands of glazed terracotta paneling, creat(ing) a distinctive character for the new building, playing off the forms and language of neighboring works of architecture,” according to a press statement issued for the groundbreaking in September 2019.

Some may wonder why anyone would want to construct a new, $93 million building in a COVID-19-dominated era when people may be hesitant to spend extended periods of time inside buildings.

It appears as if the architects and the museum director may have thought about this, too.

The building “was designed by an architect who was born and raised in this area, and he knows the climate, and knew that we have something really special here, which is the ability to be outside, at least some part of every day,” Zuckerman said. “The building really celebrates that. This idea of that porousness … the building is very prescient.”

Indeed, the design incorporates many elements of inside/outside, open space, airiness and environmental sustainability.  

The interior of the window gallery at the new Orange County Museum of Art, currently under construction in Costa Mesa. This gallery will allow passersby to view work inside the museum. Credit: DREW A. KELLEY, Contributing Photographer
The exterior of the window gallery of the new Orange County Museum of Art, currently under construction in Costa Mesa. Credit: DREW A. KELLEY, Contributing Photographer

Other New Elements

Instead of a Town Center Drive address, like the other venues at Segerstrom Center, OCMA will have a new address — 3333 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa. That was something determined under former CEO and director Todd D. Smith, who left the museum rather abruptly in August 2020 to take another job at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina.  

“The city of Costa Mesa actually gave us our number,” Zuckerman said. “That’s the same number as South Coast Plaza and a bunch of different significant places in Costa Mesa.”

In addition, OCMA announced last month the addition of eight members to its board of trustees: Barbara Bluhm-Kaul, Phillip J. Bond, Idit Ferder, Sean Green, Linda P. Maggard, Cheryl Kiddoo, Robert Olson and Lucy Sun.

“As we grow closer to celebrating OCMA’s 60th anniversary and opening our new home in 2022, we are grateful for the fresh energy and enthusiasm of our new trustees, who will help us to honor the institution’s past and forge this new era for the museum within the community and on the world stage,” said Craig W. Wells, president of OCMA’s board of trustees, in a statement.

On Tuesday, the museum announced that general admission will be free for the first 10 years at its new home in Costa Mesa, starting opening day. The free admission policy is funded by a $2.5 million gift from the Newport Beach-based Lugano Diamonds. New trustee Idit Feder is cofounder and chief operating officer of Lugano Diamonds.

Finally, OCMA recently announced that its opening exhibitions will include the return of the California Biennial, which started at the museum in 1984 and continued through 2010. In 2013 and 2017, the museum expanded its focus to include the Pacific Rim, hosting the California-Pacific Triennial instead.

The California Biennial will be co-curated by Elizabeth Armstrong, who co-curated the biennials at OCMA in 2002, 2004, 2006 and served as OCMA’s deputy director and interim director; Essence Harden, an independent curator and arts writer who’s a Ph.D. candidate in African diaspora studies at UC Berkeley; and Gilbert Vicario, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Other opening exhibitions will include “Fred Eversley: Reflecting Back (the World),” the artist’s first museum retrospective on the West Coast since 1978. OCMA will also present a show tentatively titled “13 Women,” in honor of the 13 women who founded the original Newport Harbor Art Museum in 1962.

Since its beginnings, OCMA has established a reputation for collecting and exhibiting modern and contemporary art, especially artists from California. Artists in the permanent collection include John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Vija Celmins, Richard Diebenkorn, Catherine Opie, Charles Ray and Ed Ruscha.

While this project has been about 20 years in the making, there’s definitely a multifaceted museum taking shape, as well as a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  

“I think we all learned a lot in the pandemic about what we value,” Zuckerman said. “It’s underscoring … the importance of art in a life worth living. That’s why, for example, the free admission is really important to me. Because I wanted to be able to share that opportunity with the broadest possible audience.

“I think access to art is a basic human right — it’s not a privilege. I think words without action are empty.”

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at rchang@voiceofoc.org.

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