Annenberg grant to bring new large-scale sculptures

A big financial windfall for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego should bring new works to the museum’s downtown and La Jolla locations.

The museum recently announced that it has received a $1.75 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. The money will be used to acquire several notable pieces, many from the Ace Gallery of Los Angeles, as well as a major work from San Diego artist Robert Irwin.

Museum administrators call the grant’s timing serendipitous, given how close it follows in the heels of the newly opened Jacobs and Copley Buildings. They said the new galleries will provide an ideal home for many of the acquisitions made using the grant, but that over time the museum’s La Jolla location would also see the new works.

“Our new galleries ... are ideally suited to present large-scale sculptures and installation work, which will be the focus of these acquisitions,” said museum director Hugh Davies.

The grant process is highly competitive. To receive such a large amount from a prestigious source like the Annenberg Foundation is a reflection on the caliber and merit of the benefitting organization.

“Because we had this wonderful new museum with these wonderful new industrial spaces ... I think that interested them,” said Anne Farrell, director of external communications for the museum. “I think it’s a wonderful reflection on our museum, and we are very proud.”

The museum’s curatorial department and collections committee will handle the formal acquisitions process. Upon completion, an announcement of acquired works will be made. According to grant requirements, the funds must be used for the acquisition of art and must be spent by Dec. 31 of this year.

“The process will likely take that long,” said Charles Castle, deputy director of the museum.

One of the new pieces is a major work by San Diego resident and seminal light and space artist Robert Irwin. Irwin has a strong association with the museum; his work “1° 2° 3° 4°" is featured on MCASD’s Web site’s opening page and he is the first artist-in-residence in the new Robert Caplan studio in the Jacobs Building.

New works funded by the grant have not been tagged exclusively for exhibit in the new downtown annex.

“Over time, the work acquired through this grant will be shown at both the La Jolla and downtown locations of the museum,” Castle said.

According to Farrell, museum administrators are not unaware of concern that the La Jolla site is losing out on some of the spotlight because of the recent expansion to the museum’s downtown facilities.

“We on the staff have thought and talked about this for a long time, and one thing we have tried to do is tie the two locations together,” she said.

Some of these efforts include the new admission policy, which allows for access to both sites for seven days, and showing portions of some exhibitions at both museums, such as “TRANSactions.”

“We are using strategies like that to remind people that we are one museum with two locations, so that in essence you have to visit both locations to see the entire museum,” Farrell said.

When the original downtown branch was opened, the museum had to confront a similar response. They have always worked to present a united front, Farrell said.

MCASD La Jolla has several unique features that, on their own merit, attract visitors, including the Museum Cafe, oceanfront sculpture garden, museum store and 500-seat Sherwood Auditorium.

“There are a lot of amenities that you would really need to come here for, for the whole museum experience,” Farrell said.

The new funding promises exciting works at all three museum locations. The Annenberg grant is comparable to almost a quarter of the museum’s $6.7 million annual budget. Almost entirely privately funded, only about eight percent of the budget comes from foundation sources.

“The grant process involves demonstrating the museum’s credibility as an organization and compatibility with the grant guidelines and the goals of the grant-making organization,” Castle said. “MCASD has an outstanding track record of exhibitions, fiscal responsibility and success in fundraising and securing grants, and we competed favorably and were awarded the grant.”

In the past, the museum has received sizable grants ranging from $300,000 to $850,000 from organizations such as The Wallace Foundation, Kresge Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the City of San Diego.

The Annenberg Foundation was established in 1989 by publisher and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg. The organization works for the public well-being through improved communications, affording grants for organizations and individuals who focus on education and youth development, arts and culture, civic issues, the environment, and health and human services.

The Annenberg Foundation is one of the most important philanthropic organizations in the country, Castle said. Over the last 15 years, the Foundation has awarded some 5,200 grants totaling more than $2.8 billion.

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