Museum of Contemporary Art committee considers expansion of La Jolla facility

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego could convert the outdated Sherwood Auditorium at 700 Prospect St. to exhibit space and construct an auditorium or hall half its size to replace it.


By Pat Sherman

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) has taken an important, albeit preliminary, step to assure that the public has a greater opportunity to view the world-class artworks in its permanent collection.

Museum trustees have formed a committee to select an architect who would be tasked with increasing the museum’s La Jolla exhibit space from about 10,000 square feet to as much as 30,000 square feet.

Much of the 52,000-square-foot campus is taken up by Sherwood Auditorium, plus meeting and education space, storage and circulation facilities, a boardroom, bookstore and café.

“We have lots of very useful auxiliary spaces, but the general formula for an art museum is that 50 percent of your space is public — primarily gallery space — and 50 percent is back of house,” MCASD Director Hugh Davies said. MCASD is currently using less than 20 percent of its facility as exhibit space, he said.

Of the approximately 47,000 pieces in MCASD’s permanent collection, Davies said the museum is only able to display 50 to 60 works at a given time.

“If we were able to add another 30,000 square feet we could raise that number from 50 to 250 — and that would be a dramatically different institution,” Davies said. “We’ve been building an art collection since we were founded in 1941 and have never really had adequate exhibition space to present a collection … so it sort of languishes in storage most of the time.”

During the past several years, the museum has been the recipient of several extraordinary gifts, Davies said, including 40 works by Christo left to the museum by the late


publisher and MCASD board trustee, David Copley.

“Thanks to David’s generosity, we now have the largest collection of Christo’s work outside of the National Gallery in Washington,” Davies said. “That’s a collection that we really should be sharing with people on a regular, permanent basis.

“We also have collections promised to us by other trustees. Knowing that these collections are in our future, we’re anticipating needing more space to show them, because people don’t like to leave collections to museums that don’t use them.”

The museum owns this residential rental property just south of its campus — land that could be used to expand the museum’s footprint in the future.

The expansion committee held its first meeting in June, at which time it approved a list of eight U.S. architectural firms to send a request for qualifications — all of which Davies said where interested in “throwing their hat in the ring.”

The committee and a project consultant will meet next during the second week of September, at which time they will review the submissions and chose between two and four architects to bring to La Jolla for an interview.

Though Davies stressed that the project involves multiple stages of trustee review — which could result in a decision not to expand based on economic conditions or other factors — Davies said the museum would likely consider reconfiguring the 500-seat Sherwood Auditorium to become exhibit space. In addition, MCASD owns a residential, rental property to the south of the auditorium that could be demolished to accommodate expansion.



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