Following more than a year of closure due to Covid, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) announced that it would again welcome visitors starting on June 18. The reopening of the museum, with collections that encompass art, history, and the natural sciences, coincides with the completion of a $17.8 million revamp to the OMCA campus, delayed from 2020 due to the pandemic. The renovation is focused primarily on the terraced landscape that sits atop the Kevin Roche-designed building.
Soon after the museum first opened to the public in 1969, this magazine (April 1970) described the gardens, conceived by landscape architect Dan Kiley in collaboration with Roche, as containing “rich ground covers, colorful flowering shrubs, and indigenous trees.” But over the intervening years, the gardens were neglected, resulting in an environment that, in 2019, Oakland-based landscape architect Walter Hood characterized as becoming “duller and duller year after year.” Hood, along with architect Mark Cavagnero, led the renovation project. (Cavagnero was the architect for a comprehensive 2010 renovation that touched almost every aspect of the museum, except the gardens.)
In the rehabilitated landscape, each level of the stepped rooftop focuses on a different ecoregion of California and features native and environmentally appropriate plantings. The gardens display sculptures by California artists, including Ruth Asawa, Mark di Suvero, and Peter Voulkos, some of which have been restored as part of the renovation. The outdoor space also includes new sculpture and furniture commissioned from Oakland-based artist Binta Ayofemi.
In addition to reinvigorating the landscape, the goal of this latest renovation was to better connect the OMCA to the surrounding city. Toward that end, a portion of perimeter wall along the museum’s northern side has been removed, opening the garden up to views of Lake Merritt. The project team maintains that this more porous arrangement is true to the intent of the museum’s original designers, having uncovered a scheme by Roche and Kiley that shows only trees defining this edge of the campus. Visitors will be able to access the gardens without purchasing a museum ticket.
The renovation has also created an entrance at OMCA’s northeast corner, and has made improvements to an existing south entrance, which provides direct access to an event space and a new restaurant slated to open later in the summer.
In the initial phase of reopening, museum hours will be Friday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Covid protocols, including timed ticketing, mask requirements, and social distancing will be in place.