We generally want to interpret contemporary art museums in good faith—not as mausoleums of wealth, but as open, accessible places, removed from the vicissitude of the market and designed to produce an experience, foster education, and nurture communion with art. The recently reopened Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in La Jolla checks all those boxes, even adding a gentle Pacific breeze and the sound of crashing breakers. Yet the $105 million renovation and expansion gives off monied vibes, accommodating a mushrooming collection and driven by the ambitions of the museum board.
Low-slung on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and conservatively clad in travertine panels, the expanded Joan and Irwin Jacobs Building, by New York-based Selldorf Architects, greets visitors with a pavilion-like entry shaded by a massive Mission fig tree. Maybe it’s the glass and aluminum storefront facade, or the gift shop positioned to the right of the ticketing desk, but the details smack of high-end retail. The vibe: minimalist, tasteful, functional. In short, everything that Venturi Scott Brown and Associates’ (VSBA) weird, whimsically vaulted Postmodernist lobby is not.