Editor’s note: Due to supply line issues delaying construction, the Hilbert Museum will remain open in its current location on 167 N. Atchison St. until further notice. The move to a temporary location at 216 E. Chapman Ave. will not be taking place at this time. The museum will close May 19-27 for an exhibition change, and the next exhibit, “By Popular Demand: Visitor Favorites from the Hilbert Collection,” is expected to open May 28.

Two new, university-driven museum projects are taking off to new heights in Orange County.

The Hilbert Museum of California Art will start construction this summer on a $12 million expansion of new gallery and program space. The six-year-old Chapman University museum is expected to nearly triple in size, from about 7,600 square feet to 20,275 square feet.

Los Angeles-based architectural firm Johnston Marklee has conducted research to inform its design for the expansion, which will be marked by abstract surfaces, visual graphics and an industrial aesthetic.

New features will include a research library and conference room; a community room for lectures, classes and events; an outdoor courtyard; and an adjoining café.

In Irvine, the official location of the Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA) has been revealed. It will be situated along Campus Drive near Jamboree Road on the chunk of prime property known as UC Irvine North Campus. The museum – currently budgeted at $100 million – is expected to open between 2024 and 2025, near where the UCI Medical Center-Irvine complex is also being constructed.

Previously, IMCA was expected to be built on Campus Drive, adjacent to the Irvine Barclay Theatre – a plan consistent with UCI architect William Pereira’s original 1962 campus blueprint. But those plans were scrapped after UCI hired Kim Kanatani to be its new museum director in August 2019.

The new location will offer visitors “sweeping views of the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve to complement Langson IMCA’s remarkable collection of California impressionist and contemporary art,” Kanatani said in a statement.

A High-Profile Temporary Location

The Hilbert Museum, located at 167 N. Atchison St., across the street from the Orange Metrolink station, plans to shut its current location on May 7 to prepare for the expansion, according to Mary Platt, the museum’s director.

“Then we have about three weeks to move into our temporary location,” Platt said, which will be at 216 E. Chapman Ave. in the Old Towne Orange Historic District, about a block east of Watson’s Soda Fountain & Café. The temporary Hilbert Museum will be in the old U.S. Bank building, Platt said. It’s a smaller space, but perhaps higher profile, with more foot traffic from the Orange Plaza (aka Orange Circle).

“We’re excited that we found a place,” Platt said. “It’s going to allow us to keep going, keep everything up, while they’re working on the new expansion. We’re grateful to Chapman University for leasing the temporary space for us.”

Mark and Jan Hilbert are the primary benefactors behind the Hilbert Museum of California Art in downtown Orange. Credit: Photo courtesy of Chapman University and the Hilbert Museum

The temporary location in Old Towne Orange is expected to open June 1 with the exhibition, “By Popular Demand: Visitor Favorites from the Hilbert Collection.”

Newport Beach residents and primary museum benefactors Mark and Jan Hilbert have been collecting California Scene painting and California representational art for years. In November 2014, they donated $3 million and about 240 artworks to Chapman to start the Hilbert Museum, which opened in February 2016.

While the current location on Atchison Street was initially intended to be a temporary locale, the Hilberts fell in love with the space, formerly an auto repair garage and warehouse/storage facility.

So the museum will now take over the building utilized by the dance department, which has offices and a studio next door to the museum. Chapman will convert the dance department offices into exhibition spaces and a library or research facility. The dance department will in turn move to the Villa Park Orchards Packing House, located a couple blocks north on Cypress Street.

A new entrance and two wings will be built for the Hilbert, approximately where a small parking lot sits currently. Museum officials aim to officially open the new Hilbert Museum in fall 2023, with a possible soft opening during the summer of 2023.

A 40-foot-long mosaic, “Pleasures Along the Beach,” designed and created by California artist Millard Sheets, will adorn the new entrance.

This mural, comprised of thousands of small Italian glass tiles, called tesserae, was gifted to the museum by the owners of a former Home Savings Bank in Santa Monica, where it had been displayed until recently, when the building was slated for demolition.

“We’re very pleased to have played a role in conserving this dazzling mosaic so many more generations can enjoy its beauty,” Platt said in a statement.

Mark and Jan Hilbert are expected to fund the entire expansion cost of $12 million. “We will be able to show almost three times as many paintings from our collection of more than 3,000 artworks,” Mark Hilbert said. “And we also will continue to borrow from other great collections and museums. Now we will have much more space to do all this – it is very exciting.”

He added in a statement: “Our quest is to become one of the leading university-based art museums in the nation.”

The Hilberts’ collection of more than 3,000 California Scene paintings, works of movie and animation art, and American illustration forms the core of the museum’s holdings. The collection includes pieces by Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, Emil Kosa Jr., Roger Kuntz, Joan Irving, Ruth Peabody, Phil Paradise and Milford Zornes.

The new space will also showcase cultural objects that the Hilberts have collected – including Navajo weavings and Pueblo pottery – in a new Founders Gallery.

Treasures Will Have a New Home

Meanwhile, now that the location for the Langson IMCA has been chosen, UCI officials expect to hire a consultant this year to do preliminary planning and cost estimates. An architect will then be selected, most likely in mid-2023, and construction could begin in late 2024 or early 2025, subject to approval from the UC Board of Regents, a statement said.

Fundraising efforts will proceed, including naming opportunities within the building. Langson IMCA – which is temporarily housed in the old Irvine Museum at 18881 Von Karman Ave. – will continue public programs and education partnerships with 19 local school districts, a statement said.

The new Langson Institute and Museum of California Art will house an extensive collection of California impressionist and contemporary art. This rendering is a facsimile of what the gallery spaces may look like. Credit: Image courtesy of UCI and IMCA

“The new museum and institute will be an exceptional resource for art lovers and scholars,” said James Irvine Swinden in the statement. He helped shepherd the Irvine Museum collection of impressionist paintings acquired by his mother, the late Joan Irvine Smith, for over three decades before donating the artwork to UCI in October 2016.

At the time, the gift of 1,200 works was valued at $17 million, UCI’s largest single gift of art up to that point.

Then in November 2017, the trust of Gerald E. Buck, a Newport Beach developer who died in 2013, donated the Buck Collection to UCI. The collection of 3,200 works – covering wide swaths of California 20th century art, including social realism, hard-edge abstraction, minimalism and the Light and Space movement – was valued between $30 million and $40 million.

Artists in the Buck Collection include Peter Alexander, Carlos Almaraz, John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Tony DeLap, Richard Diebenkorn, Lorser Feitelson, Oskar Fischinger, Llyn Foulkes, Craig Kauffman, Roger Kuntz, Helen Lundeberg, John McLaughlin, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, James Turrell and Peter Voulkos.

“I’m happy that the works my dad collected will go on display in such a beautiful setting, near a nature preserve,” said Christina Buck, daughter of the late Gerald E. Buck, in a statement.

As the Hilbert Museum and the Langson IMCA move forward, the Orange County Museum of Art is busy working toward finishing its new building, the $93 million multi-level structure designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his Culver City-based firm, Morphosis.

The new OCMA is scheduled to open on Oct. 8 of this year.

“It’s kind of a trend,” Platt observed. “Museums are just burgeoning in Orange County. Even during the pandemic, everyone wants to make Orange County a visual art destination. The success of each of us is adding to the success of all of us.”

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

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