Koi Pond. Sculpture by Bruce Beasley, Tragmon, 1972, Photo by Rue Flaherty
The koi still swim lazily in the pool, flashing through the greenish waters with sparkling dots of gold and red. The turtles still look for the sunniest rock around and the loggia still wraps around the museum, inviting viewers to sit a while and think about what they’ve seen.
For what they’ve just seen – and experienced – is a marvelous transformation. When the Oakland Museum opens on Sunday, May 1st, after a two-year, 62.2 million renovations, the museum will be the most user-friendly and interactive space on the West Coast. There’s no tip toeing around and speaking in whispers here and there’s also no aura of elitist arrogance either. The transformation goes beyond the brightly colored walls or light filled galleries.
Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1868, Oil on canvas. H: 36 in, W: 54 in. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Miss Marguerite Laird in memory of Mr. and Mrs. P.W. Laird.
Instead of a simple chronological organization, the works of art are now arranged by concept and theme. The museum acknowledges Oakland (and California's ethnic diversity) by having the wall text written in Chinese, Spanish and English. There are feed back booths where visitors are encouraged to leave comments. There is even comfortable seating so that viewers can sit and look at the works of art, rather than being forced to stand to the point of discomfort; for older folks, the disabled and even families with lively children, this is a priceless addition.
Poets, artists and even the public have contributed to the newly written wall texts. The wonders of technology have been utilized to allow visitors to immerse themselves in a variety of experiences – from the creation of a work of art to a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of California history.
Lucia Mathews Lucia K. Mathews, Oranges (Portrait of a Red Haired Girl), 1910. Watercolor on paper, 25.5 x 18.25 inches, with Furniture Shop frame, 41.25 x 34.25 inches. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California; gift of Harald Wagner.
"It's about the human experience," Rene De Guzman, the museum’s senior curator said, in a recent interview in the Oakland Tribune. "That was the original mission of the museum, to be a place 'for the people,' for social engagement and public discourse. Not some ivory tower, but comfortable, welcoming, to reflect the notion of being comfortable with art and ideas.
"With that in mind, the renovation has been this great collaborative process," he said. "We've literally gone out and asked people what they want in a museum, and one of the things they said is that they wanted a place to sit down sometimes. So here you go."
New exhibition spaces will feature the museum’s new acquisitions on a rotating basis. There’s a complete gallery devoted to Dorothea Lange and another section titled “Esto Es Mexico” where the display tells the story of two cultures in collision in early California history.
The Gallery of California Art, now light filled and enlarged, is showcasing the most comprehensive collection of California art in the world, from the earliest 19th century landscape paintings through more contemporary artists like Elmer Bischoff, Manuel Nieri and Richard Diebenkorn. The museum has also reached out to local artists like Ernest Jolly whose work explores the relationship between organic forms and man made structures in shape, sound, and light. In this, they are way ahead of museums like SFMOMA whose directors have, in the past, largely ignored emerging local artists.
Ernest Jolly, The Alchemist Suite, Mixed Media, 2010
Created in 1969 as a museum for the people, the Oakland Museum remains true to that vision. Revamped, rethought and renovated, it’s a stunning rebuttal to Gertrude’s old adage about Oakland that “There is no there, there.” Sorry Gertrude, In 2010, there certainly is a There, THERE!
The museum will open with thirty-one hour of free events. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 1, on the street in front of the new Oak Street entrance with a Native American Ohlone blessing, a marching band, Project Bandaloop performing a spectacular aerial dance, and more. And the non-stop celebration continues through 6 p.m. Sunday, May 2.