The storm clouds parted and the sun streamed through as a crowd of 500-plus people gathered Saturday afternoon for the groundbreaking of the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis.
And the sound of a huge metal gong was heard again and again during the festivities, as people took turns striking the large piece by artist William T. Wiley, a member of the UC Davis art faculty from 1962 through 1976, which will reside outside the Mondavi Center box office for the next two months.
The artist himself, now a dapper 76-year-old, dressed in black with a black hat, demonstrated how it’s done; scores of others sounded the gong as well. The UC Davis Samba School, dressed in the Brazilian national colors, provided festive percussion.
But the main focus was the new Shrem Museum, which will feature an indoor/outdoor combination of spaces for creating and displaying art. There will be some 29,000 square feet of interior space under the roof, but the building will have a 50,000-square-foot “grand canopy” that will extend well beyond the exterior walls, a sort of curved veil that will simultaneously filter light above a big plaza area at the museum’s entrance, and also catch the eye of passing travelers on Interstate 80.
The distinctive design was created by the architectural firms SO-IL of New York and the San Francisco offices of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
The museum — located even closer to the Union Pacific railroad tracks than the Mondavi Center — will have special features to screen out rumble and vibration from passing trains.
“We’ve organized the museum’s spaces so all the art education activities will be out front — the first thing you are going to see is students of all ages making art and learning about art,” said Rachel Teagle, the new museum’s director.
Inside will be flexible gallery space, with a number of movable walls, for displaying the university’s art collection, as well as other works.
The museum is a $30 million project, with half of the building budget ($15 million) funded by private philanthropic gifts, and the other half coming from tax-exempt bond financing. The university will not use student tuition or fees, or state funds, to pay for construction, which is expected to take about two years.
Dignitaries on hand for speeches in the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts included Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, who made a $10 million naming gift. Sitting with the Shrems in the VIP box was Margrit Mondavi, who gave a $2 million leadership gift that launched the drive to build the museum. As she walked outside to see a shovel symbolically put in the ground, Mondavi said, “Sometimes with seeds, big dreams grow.”
Chancellor Linda Katehi emphasized the project’s educational mission, saying, “Programmed into the museum’s DNA is the idea that all who enter become students again.” She said the new museum would be “a space for creativity where you can take risks without fear.”
Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, mentioned several individuals whose work led to the establishment of the new museum.
They include Richard Nelson, who founded the university’s art department in 1952, and hired rising young artists like Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Wiley and others as faculty in the early years; L. Price Amerson, who created the Nelson Gallery and built up the university’s art collection from 1979 through 1999; Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef, who in 1994 outlined plans for a new performing arts center, an art museum and a music recital hall at UCD; and Katehi, who committed to the new art museum in 2009, at a time when the recession made funding less than certain.
Teagle spoke enthusiastically about plans to double the membership of the university’s ARTfriends group, and establishing a docent program for the new museum.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.