Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

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Collection Gallery at MCASD

On view at MCASD

April 9, 2022 to June 1, 2025

On view at MCASD La Jolla, The Inaugural Collection Installation highlights MCASD’s diverse historical holdings and ongoing commitment to the art of our present moment. The Museum’s collection embraces artistic innovations from the mid-twentieth century to today with a focus on the ongoing legacies of abstraction in arts of the Americas and Europe.

In 1969, MCASD devoted itself to the acquisition and exhibition of twentieth-century art, collecting new works by artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Miriam Shapiro, Larry Bell, and Agnes Martin. Now, almost sixty years later, the collection has grown to represent the increasing multiplicity of contemporary art, taking an expansive look across time periods and national borders.

This Inaugural Collection Installation of the MCASD’s collection is organized by Kathryn Kanjo, The David C. Copley Director and CEO, and Associate Curator Anthony Graham.

Light and Space

Can light be a medium of art? In the 1960s and 70s, a group of loosely-associated artists working in and around Los Angeles began exploring that very question. This artistic movement of Light and Space investigated the varied methods of directing natural and artificial light, as well as the spectrum of light's perceptual properties. For this inaugural presentation, three galleries highlight the endeavors of the Light and Space movement: Pfister Gallery, Fox Gallery, and Gordon Gray Gallery.

Featured in Pfister Gallery, Larry Bell and Mary Corse explored the refractive ability of glass, working in different visual vocabularies, using the medium to direct, reflect, and diffuse light. Others, like Craig Kauffman and De Wain Valentine, employed Plexiglas, fiberglass, and resin in order to create what was called "Finish Fetish." This choice of materials was in part inspired by the industrial shine and gloss of Los Angeles's urban landscape.

In Fox Gallery, the work of Southern Californian practitioners is shown alongside their East Coast peers. The illusionistic treatment of line and color in the Minimalist work of New York-based artists like Donald Judd finds affinity with Californian experiments in perception.

Gordon Gray Gallery is dedicated to Robert Irwin (1928–2023), a key figure in this school.

Pop Art

Coca-cola, a bottle of milk, sunny-side-up eggs. Inspired by the everyday, Pop Art is frequently identified by its appropriation of popular imagery and familiar objects. Often repurposed for satirical ends, images and phrases were clipped, copied, and consumed from all available sources of media. The United States' thriving consumerism and obsession with celebrity were both stimulants and sources of critique for artists. Cohn Gallery displays the distinct yet simultaneous developments of a pop aesthetics in the coastal scenes of Los Angeles and New York.

On the West Coast, Pop was paired with a tendency towards conceptualism, inflected more by the mundane and humorous than the fame and commercialization which preoccupied artists in New York. Cohn Gallery features the Museum's signature pieces of Pop Art, which epitomize the difference in aesthetic and approach found on each coast; Andy Warhol's celebrity screenprints on the East and Ed Ruscha's text paintings on the West.


Working with the visual vocabularies of abstraction and Minimalism, many of the works in Carson Royston Gallery meditate on tone, geometry, and simplicity of material. Compelled by questions of sensory perception, these artworks play with optical illusion and pictorial tension. The surfaces of these monochromatic works record the friction of encounter between artist and object. Canvases display the impasto of paint layers and salience of line, while industrial objects weld and hinge into organic forms, emoting beyond the rigidity of their materials. Conversing through a rhyming of visual forms, the pieces in this space explore abstraction across multiple channels of influence.


Beginning in the late 1950s, artistic experimentation moved towards an explicit concentration on color, line, and form. Painted, stained, pushed, and printed, color mindfully makes its way in and onto the artworks in Foster Family Gallery through a diverse array of applications and artistic methods. Concurrent moments of abstraction proliferated in pockets of the country and in the artistic centers of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. The oily hard-edges of Frank Stella's circle grew out of traditional artistic methods, whereas the dancing-dyed forms of Sam Gilliam move the canvas off the wall, innovating shape and pigmentation. These varied abstractions chromatically bounce from the Museum's earliest holdings to works by contemporary Color Field painters in Bloom Gallery.


Marshall Gallery highlights networks of Latinx artists - both those living and working in the United States (including those in our local region) - and those in the broader Americas. Dating from the 1970s onward, the works here speak to a range of issues, from exploitative economies-like foreign-run maquiladora companies in Tijuana in Felipe Almada's altar - to the surrealist terrains of Daniela Gallois. Artists approach these weighty topics with cutting humor, appropriating images and items from material culture in order to wryly comment on familiar encounters. Similar critiques operate in works like Benjamín Serrano's El diablo crucificado which use religious iconography and art historical references to challenge the binaristic conceptions of "high" and "low" art.

Robert Irwin

Meyer Gallery, Krichman Gallery, and Gordon Gray Gallery are dedicated to Robert Irwin (1928–2023), a key figure in the Light and Space Movement. The works comprise a brief survey of Irwin's artistic trajectory, ranging from his early formation in abstract expressionist painting to his now-iconic perceptual experiments with light. MCASD's relationship with the artist began in 1969, when the institution mounted his first museum exhibition. Today, with ten installations, eight paintings, seven sculptures, and thirty drawings by Irwin housed in the permanent collection, MCASD maintains the largest institutional holdings of the artist's work.

Poor Materials

Many artists in Moores Gallery and Farris Gallery question the notion that history is either fixed or factual. These artworks challenge canonical accounts of history by focusing on the biased lens wielded by systems of power, from an inquiry into African fabric design to reimagining Renaissance sculpture. These artists' use of unconventional or "poor" materials - such as discarded plastic or burlap - engage their material origins and poke fun at art historical convention.

Assemblage Art

Whether it be a building up of paint or construction of found objects, each artwork in Fayman Gallery and Parker Gallery speak to the additive properties of material in artistic processes. These artists maintain a relationship with the work's constituent components while simultaneously generating new and unexpected narratives. Typically referred to as assemblage, this technique serves as a medium through which artists consider social change, artistic style, and narrative devices. California's strong legacy of assemblage art is reflected here, from San Francisco to San Diego, as each artwork becomes more than the sum of its parts.


This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support was provided by the Charley Cochrane Exhibition Fund.

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