How The San Diego Museum of Art Brought Its Sculptures Into The Open Air

The San Diego Museum of Art has pulled seven modern sculptures out of storage and into the open for a two-year public art exhibition.

Called “Art of the Open Air,” the free show is located in front of the museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The seven sculptures include a Rodin, Tony Rosenthal’s “Odyssey III” and Joan Miró’s “Solar Bird,” which had been behind museum doors due to conservation needs and limited exhibition space. Several other modern and contemporary sculptures will also be placed around the park for a total of 15.


“The Prodigal Son,” Auguste Rodin. 1905. Source: SDMA

The idea for this show came from Anita Feldman, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Education, whose background is in public sculpture including nearly two decades at the Henry Moore Foundation (where, incidentally, she curated a sort of reverse-art-in-the-open-air.)

“It’s always different doing outdoor sculpture. There is a different magic to it,” Feldman said. “The sculpture’s in your environment – it’s basically extending the museum outdoors. … There isn’t a physical boundary between the museum and the public and there’s no economic boundary. So those are the things that I think are really exciting.”

As a private institution presenting public art, SDMA had a few hoops to jump through before achieving this.

First there was the issue of gaining the proper permissions, as the museum does not own the land that Art of the Open Air is sitting on. Balboa Park is municipal land, official parkland and a National Historic Landmark; Feldman told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the museum did 35 presentations to different groups for approval.

And then the funding. SDMA declined to state the cost of the exhibition citing security issues, but the fundraising goal for Art of the Open Air was $500,000. About half of that has been raised so far, which allowed for initial installation, according to Elizabeth Kaplan, SDMA Director of Membership and Development.

Kaplan said that most of the money for Art of the Open Air has come from five major gifts. A museum trustee also provided a $20,000 matching grant for a crowdfunding campaign dedicated to this exhibition. Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular source of revenue for museums and this was the SDMA’s first use of it. A two-month campaign, dubbed #FreeTheArt, pulled in $8,000 of the $20,000 goal, according to the Indiegogo page.


When asked if the shortfall would have an impact on the exhibition, Kaplan said no, indicating that crowdfunding represented an experiment with new donation systems and a “small portion” of overall funding. She added that she was pleased with the engagement #FreeTheArt sparked between the museum and younger donors (she defined younger as 30s and 40s) as well as the publicity and social media attention it garnered.

“I think the community that we were reaching out to [with #FreeTheArt] really rallied behind the idea of free public art,” Kaplan said. “I think overall, for this museum, it was a good idea because we really need to figure out how to engage younger donors and this is how they like to give. So I would definitely consider it again.”

Art of the Open Air will be on view for two years – “extended temporary,” in Feldman’s words.

“You woldn’t want to spend half a million dollars for something that’s going to be up for three months,” she said, adding that conservation of the sculptures made the project more time consuming. “But at the same time you don’t want to go and say it’s going to be permanent because you probably wouldn’t get the permission.”

“I’m hoping that at the end of two years, people will decide, ‘we really like having the sculptures there and maybe they can stay,'” she continued. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Featured Image: “Solar Bird,” Joan Miró. Photo: Nelvin C. Cepeda. Source: San Diego Union Tribune