‘A lasting treasure’: Museum of Contemporary Art reopens reinvented La Jolla campus to an ‘amazed’ public

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's flagship La Jolla location is now open after a four-year renovation.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To applause from the hundreds of people awaiting entry to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on its grand-reopening day April 9, David C. Copley director and Chief Executive Kathryn Kanjo offered a look at “a lasting treasure that’s going to endure for generations to come.”

MCASD welcomed the community back inside its flagship La Jolla location at 700 Prospect St. after a four-year, multimillion-dollar renovation that more than doubled its square footage and gave its existing spaces a complete overhaul.

Crowds lined Prospect Street north to Eads Avenue and beyond to see the art and the new architecture, designed by Selldorf Architects.

The project renovated 28,000 square feet of existing spaces and added 46,400 square feet of new spaces, bringing the total size of the museum to 105,000 square feet.

New spaces include an entirely redesigned main building, now named the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Building in honor of the longtime supporters and La Jollans whose $20 million provided the foundation for the museum’s extensive fundraising efforts.

The building contains the new suite of Strauss Galleries, built where the Sherwood Auditorium used to be, along with the Foster, Pfister and other galleries named for the donors who funded their construction.

MCASD La Jolla's several new spaces include the Sahm Seaview Room and Bartell Terrace.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The design also incorporates new public spaces such as the Sahm Seaview Room and Bartell Terrace, formerly a loading dock; the outdoor Art Park, which used to be a parking lot; and other seaside terraces and walkways.

The renovation also reorients the museum’s front entrance onto Prospect Street with a new entry pavilion.

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego unveiled its renovation to the public April 9 at 700 Prospect St., La Jolla.
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego unveiled its renovation to the public April 9 at 700 Prospect St., La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Joan Plaehn)

Moments before the reopening, and four days after a ribbon cutting attended by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and others, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said he was “blown away at how they were able to transform the space.”

He said the building is “art unto itself, and it certainly celebrates its location along the coastline.”

Grant Oliphant, Joe LaCava, Paul Jacobs and Kathryn Kanjo cut the ribbon ahead of opening MCASD to the public April 9.
Conrad Prebys Foundation CEO Grant Oliphant, City Councilman Joe LaCava, MCASD President Paul Jacobs and MCASD CEO Kathryn Kanjo (from left) cut the ribbon ahead of opening the museum to the public April 9.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

MCASD currently is hosting two exhibitions:

• “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s” is the first exhibit on the West Coast to focus on the experimental and prolific work of French American artist de Saint Phalle, who spent her last years in La Jolla and died in 2002. The exhibit, co-curated by The Menil Collection in Houston, features major paintings, sculptures and assemblages from the artist’s career.

• “Selections from the Collection” highlights works from the more than 5,600 pieces in the museum’s collection, curated since 1950 and including art by John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Sam Gilliam, Robert Irwin, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Helen Pashgian, Martin Puryear, Marcos Ramírez ERRE and more.

MCASD board President Paul Jacobs said April 9 that he’s happy the museum can finally share its “world-class collection of art, much of which has been stored away in a vault for … decades.”

Outside on a terrace overlooking Coast Boulevard, La Jolla resident Kathleen Jay said she loves the renovated museum. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

David Hrabe and Sandy Somers of Scottsdale, Ariz., said they saw the museum under construction on a visit two years ago and happened on the reopening during a return visit.

“We were excited,” Somers said. “They’ve done a beautiful job displaying things.”

“The Saint Phalle exhibit is interesting,” Hrabe said.

La Jolla Rotary Club President Cindy Goodman said: “I’m amazed. It’s such a change.”

Pieces in the “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location.
Pieces in the “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s” exhibit are on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla location.
(Courtesy of Joan Plaehn)

The reopening included live music and art activities, along with bites from Urban Kitchen Group, which has been contracted to oversee a new restaurant named The Kitchen @ MCASD, opening in early summer.

Grant Oliphant, chief executive of the Conrad Prebys Foundation, said MCASD celebrates a “combination of curiosity and delight, awe and wonder.”

The foundation is funding “Prebys Play Day,” which began April 10 and will be held the second Sunday of each month.

Prebys Play Days include free tours created especially for multigenerational participants at their own pace, plus treasure hunts, hands-on art activities and more.

MCASD’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $25 for adults ($20 for San Diego County and Tijuana residents), $15 for students and senior citizens, and free for members and children younger than 17. More discounts are available. To learn more, visit