Oakland's new jewel of a museum 

Longtime visitors to the Oakland Museum of California’s three-tiered art, California history and natural history collections are in for a pleasant shock this weekend when the renovated institution reopens Saturday for a free, 31-hour nonstop celebration this weekend.

It's 31 hours because, as one might recall from school, California was the 31st state, admitted to the union on Sept. 9, 1850.

But never mind. There’s great news, especially for those familiar with the nondescript art-gallery floor of the museum. (The natural history basement was OK, the California history floor was what made a visit worthwhile.)

After a dozen years of planning, eight months of closure, and raising $62.2 million for the project, OMCA is open for business.

Spiffing up Kevin Roche's unique 1969 building – a series of horizontal concrete structures, stepping down along the natural slope, with sculpture and roof gardens designed by Dan Kiley – San Francisco architect Mark Cavagnero created a magnificent new top floor for the art collection.

He also helped revive the California history floor (natural history won't open for another couple of years), which is now even more interesting than before, although the glorious old fire engine backed up against a wall reduces its allure, making it look two-dimensional.

But the new main attraction is the art floor. It is clean, inviting, well-lighted, spacious, with a wealth of new – mostly modern – art exhibited in a masterful fashion: each piece gets generous space, lighting and creature-comforts (portable seats, even!) handled right.

Cavagnero's greatest contribution is the enclosure of two sculpture garden areas to create terrific new galleries, with 20-foot walls and clerestory windows. He used steel framing, stainless steel roof and wall panels and structural glass.

The plan added some 5,600 square feet of new exhibition space, and the galleries give a new visual-tactile definition to the entire museum, in a manner similar to (although smaller than), the role of the turbine-room central area in the Tate Modern in London.

California art is emphasized in the gallery, including well-known works by photographer Dorothea Lange – 6,000 of her negatives are owned by the museum – and painter Richard Diebenkorn, along with jewelry, textiles and crafts.

Among recent acquisitions on view: Works by Sam Durant, Isamu Noguchi, Peter Voulkos and Richard Misrach. There also are examples of California-peculiar art, such as a custom Arlen Ness motorcycle.

Oakland Museum of California

1000 Oak St., Oakland
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays-Friday; closed Mondays-Tuesdays
Tickets: $6 to $12, free first Sunday of the month
Contact: (510) 238-2200, www.museumca.org

Note: The reopening celebration of free, continuous, round-the-clock activities begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and runs through 6 p.m. Sunday.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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