Newly Expanded Hilbert Museum of California Art Debuts in February 2024 with Triple the Space and Eight Opening Exhibitions Stunning new 22,000-sq.-ft. facility at Chapman University will be christened with three weeks of opening festivities

The spaciously reimagined new home of one of the world’s largest collections of California narrative art will officially open to the public Feb. 23, 2024, following weeks of special previews and open houses for students, Orange County and Southern California residents, artists and art lovers and influencers from around the world.

The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University, founded and funded through the ongoing generosity of art collectors and philanthropists Mark and Janet Hilbert of Newport Coast, Calif., today announced its 2024 opening schedule, operating hours and opening exhibitions which will cap an ambitious three-year project to expand the museum from 7,500 to 22,000 sq. ft. as an expansion of the site it has occupied since opening in 2016.

Visitors in the New Year will find a striking new two-building ensemble offering 26 galleries for rotating displays of the more than 5,000 oils, watercolors and drawings depicting everyday California life in the growing Hilbert Collection, plus a café; community room for lectures, classes and events; research library; and outdoor courtyard and native gardens that create a new front door to the museum.

“It’s extremely gratifying to be announcing opening dates and exhibitions after years of careful planning for this spectacular next chapter in Orange County’s museum renaissance,” said founder Mark Hilbert, who with his wife gifted the couple’s extensive collection to Chapman to make it available for public view. “Soon, Chapman University, Orange County and Southern California will have a glorious new home for California narrative art that is as expansive and artistically accessible as the art inside.”

“We’re thrilled to be so close to welcoming visitors back to the Hilbert Museum,” said the museum’s director, Mary Platt. “This spectacular new expansion is a dream come true – the building itself is an eye-catching piece of art that provides a visual welcome. And we have a dynamic array of extraordinary exhibitions to open with, showing off many of the varied facets of The Hilbert Collection.”

Platt is planning an opening slate of eight exhibitions showcasing the museum’s focus on California Scene paintings (narrative scenes of California life in watercolor or oils, from the 1930s to the present), plus its rich holdings in animation and movie art, Native American art and American illustration and design. Among the opening shows are those featuring Millard Sheets, Disney’s Mary Blair, Norman Rockwell and local Chicano artist Emigidio Vasquez as well as vintage radios, Navajo weavings and examples of California modernism. Exhibitions will change and rotate several times per year.

The exhibitions opening on Feb. 23, 2024, in the expanded museum include:

  • Selections from The Hilbert Permanent Collection (curated by Gordon McClelland in the North Wing Galleries): Eight galleries in the North Wing will be dedicated to showcasing the vast variety of oil and watercolor paintings, prints and drawings in The Hilbert Collection in chronological order, from the late 1800s through the Depression-era rise of the California regionalist Scene Painting style to the works of contemporary Golden State artists working today. These galleries will regularly rotate new works into the mix. Featured artists in the opening round include Emil Kosa Jr., David Hockney, Phil Dike, Sueo Serisawa, Vanessa Helder, Rex Brandt, Serena Potter, Francis de Erdely, Frank Romero, Jesse Arms Botke, Edgar Payne, Burr Singer, Wayne Thiebaud and others.
  • “Millard Sheets” (Curated by Jean Stern from The Hilbert Collection and other collections in the South Wing Galleries): Millard Sheets (1907-1989), perhaps the most celebrated of California 20th-century artists, could do it all: he was a superb painter, muralist, mosaicist, designer and teacher. His extraordinary work is represented here by 40 original paintings selected from The Hilbert Collection and other collections – and simultaneously honors Sheets’ gloriously restored “Pleasures Along the Beach” mosaic on the museum’s west-facing façade.
  • “A Matter of Style: Modernism in California Scene Art: 1930-1970s” (Curated by Gordon McClelland from The Hilbert Collection and other collections in the South Wing Galleries): This selection of works by California artists Agnes Pelton, Roger Kuntz, Helen Lundeberg, Conrad Buff, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Susan Hertel, Keith Crown and others chronicles the groundbreaking impact of Modernism on the California Scene genre in the early 20th
  • “Mary Blair’s Wonderland: Imagining Disney’s Alice” (Curated by Mary Platt from the Hilbert Collection in the Cinema Arts Galleries): Curated from The Hilbert Collection’s rich animation holdings is this ultimate Alice tribute to Disney artist Mary Blair (1911-1978), encompassing both Blair’s Alice in Wonderland concept art and original Alice art by other Disney illustrators created for picture books, record albums and advertising.
  • “Norman Rockwell: Capturing the American Spirit” (Curated by Mary Platt from the Bank of America Collection and the Hilbert Collection in the James L. and Lynne P. Doti Gallery of American Illustration):  The beloved illustrator and classically American visual storyteller (1894-1978) is feted through original paintings, drawings and artist prints selected from The Hilbert Collection and on loan from the Bank of America Collection.
  • “Eye Dazzlers: Marvels of Navajo Weaving from the Hilbert Collection” (Curated by Mary Platt in the Founders Gallery of Native American Art): These “eye dazzler” blankets woven by Navajo women in the late 1800s and early 1900s were known for their vibrant colors, intricate patterns and bold, geometric forms – many of which seem to anticipate the work of later color-field artists and modernist painters.
  • “Emigdio Vasquez: Works from the Fred Ortiz Collection” (Curated by Fred Ortiz in the South Wing Galleries):  Emigdio Vasquez (1939-2014), the acclaimed Chicano artist, muralist and teacher who started his career capturing scenes of everyday life in Orange’s historic Barrio District, is saluted with this selection of his social-realist paintings, curated by his longtime friend and local resident Fred Ortiz.
  • “Art of the Airwaves: Radios from The Hilbert Collection” (Curated by Clark Silva in the Founders Gallery of American Design): Vintage radio takes on a bold new meaning with this collection of Bakelite and plastic shelf and tabletop radios from the 1930s to the 1950s. From Art Deco wonders to modernist pieces in rich colors and textures, these radios were designed by some of the top industrial artists in the world.

“We are excited to see realized the expanded Hilbert Museum of California Art, with its entry courtyard and urban markers creating a new gateway to Old Towne Orange and to Chapman University,” said Collette Creppell, AIA, AUA, LEED AP, Chapman’s vice president of campus planning and design.

For the expansion, Chapman University selected architects Johnston Marklee of Los Angeles, who conceived a floating, open-air structure that unites the two gallery buildings and serves as a frontispiece for the 40’ x 16’ “Pleasures Along the Beach.” This signature 1969 glass-tile mosaic by acclaimed artist Millard Sheets was rescued and moved from a former Home Savings Bank building on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica in 2019 and is being painstakingly restored to serve as the ultimate, larger-than-life preview of the California art inside the Hilbert Museum. 

“The Hilbert Collection is unique in that it is one of the few to specialize in narrative art – or art that tells a story, which in our case is focused on California,” said Platt. “Because of this, we wanted a museum building that embraces the visitor and entices them to explore the history and culture of the Golden State as seen through the painters, illustrators, animators and other artists who have long been drawn here. Johnston Marklee has accomplished this in spectacular style.”

According to Sharon Johnston, founding partner of Johnston Marklee, the museum stands in an industrial corridor within the Cypress Street Barrio historic district and the design pays tribute to local Orange industrial and mercantile architecture. Designed to sculpt light and shadow with simple stacked forms and integrated garden patios suitable to the temperate climate, the museum exterior recalls images from the Hilbert Collection of Southern California as it was developing early in the 20th century.

“We have created an open-air courtyard with native gardens as the new entry for this important museum dedicated to California art,” said Johnston. “The visitor experience begins outside with the Millard Sheets mosaic, framing a civic space that links the Chapman University campus to the city of Orange. Together with the four urban markers and the courtyard, the low-lying industrial vernacular of the existing buildings is adapted into a new, expanded museum experience.”

The expanded Hilbert Museum will be open from 10am to 5pm Tuesdays through Saturdays starting February 23, 2024, and closed on Sundays and Mondays.  Visitors can view a small sampling of the museum’s holdings at the Hilbert Temporary in downtown Orange through December 9, 2023. 

Admission to the museum is free for all audiences, continuing a promise that Mark and Janet Hilbert made when the original Hilbert Museum debuted in 2016 to keep The Hilbert Collection as accessible to the public as possible.

Hilbert Museum officials will unveil a detailed Feb. 6-22 expansion grand opening schedule in the coming months that includes previews for Chapman students, parents and school administrators; Orange County and Southern California residents; artists, muralists and mosaic specialists; art aficionados and influencers from around the world; Disney, movie and animation fans; and local, national and international media.

About the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University 

The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University, in Orange, Calif., was founded in 2016 by art collectors and philanthropists Mark and Janet Hilbert with their gift of artwork and funds to open a new museum, and is home to one of the world’s largest collections of California narrative art. It also holds the distinction of being the only museum in the world committed to tracing the rich, iconic history of the Golden State from the late 1800s to the present through works by leading California artists and Hollywood studio artists and animators.

The Hilbert Museum is currently undergoing a major expansion. When it debuts to the public on Feb. 23, 2024, the stunning new 22,000-sq.-ft. building on the original museum site will offer triple the space for museum operations and rotating displays of the more than 5,000 oils, watercolors and drawings of California life in the Hilbert Collection, including acclaimed works by David Hockney, Wayne Thiebaud, Millard Sheets, Emil Kosa, Jr., Mary Blair, Phil Dike, Milford Zornes and Rex Brandt, among many others. There will also be a new café, community room, outdoor courtyard and research library plus new galleries devoted to one of the largest private collections of Disney and other animation art, works by American illustrators, Native American arts and American design.

Hilbert Museum Director Mary Platt and her team operate The Hilbert Temporary at 216 E. Chapman Ave., in Orange, Calif., through Dec. 9.  For more information, visit www.hilbertmuseum.org.

About Chapman University

Chapman University, founded in 1861, is a nationally ranked private university based in Orange, Calif., thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles. Chapman’s campus draws outstanding students from across the nation and around the world. Known for its blend of liberal arts and professional programs – including film, science, engineering, business, economics, law, education, humanities and performing arts – Chapman encompasses eleven schools and colleges across its two campuses. Named as one of the top universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review, Chapman enrolls nearly 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students and employs over 1,500 faculty and staff.  For more information, visit https://www.chapman.edu/about/index.aspx.

About Johnston Marklee

Johnston Marklee was founded in 1998 by partners Sharon Johnston FAIA, and Mark Lee. The work of Johnston Marklee is recognized internationally for its engagement with arts and culture within the contemporary city, while being rooted in the history and foundations of the discipline. The firm uses tools of design, building technology, and material applications to solve specific design challenges, resulting in singular works of architecture.

Drawing upon a network of collaborators in related fields and in the arts, the firm expands the context of design research and fosters collective projects. In 2018 Johnston and Lee were named Professors in Practice at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where Lee concluded his five-year term as Chair of the Department of Architecture in the Spring of 2023. For more information, visit www.johnstonmarklee.com.

Carly Murphy

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