“The reconceived Gallery of California Art takes the creative process and visitor participation to a whole new level that incorporates interactivity in a deep and robust way.” —René de Guzman, Senior Curator of Art
As part of OMCA’s recent transformation, the Gallery of California Art has been revitalized into a living, breathing space, pulsating with energy and ideas. Organized thematically, the Gallery is installed along three themes: California Land, California People, and California Creativity. This thematic approach allows visitors to see works in different media and from different periods side by side, inspiring new ways of looking at California’s evolving role as a cutting-edge center of visual expression. Seminal works by artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Dorothea Lange, Richard Diebenkorn, Edward Weston, and David Ireland remain highlights of the art collection, but museum-goers can also count on making new and thought-provoking discoveries every time they visit.
A NIMBLE WAY TO EXPERIENCE ART
View art your way: Move a chair in front of your favorite artwork and sit as long as you like.
Expect the unexpected: With four regularly changing exhibition spaces, the Gallery offers dynamic experiences that evolve with your input.
Get engaged: Touch materials, write in journals, and draw your self-portrait.
TAKING AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH
Enjoy the mash-ups: People don’t live in silos, and neither should museums. Art, history, and science are deeply intertwined, and OMCA’S galleries embody these interrelationships.
Do deeper dives: Stop in a Loaded Lounge to explore connections, get different perspectives, and ask: what is art, anyway?
Featured Art Collections held by OMCA
OMCA's art collection—one of the largest and most comprehensive holdings of California art in the world—grew out of the holdings of the Oakland Art Gallery, a museum dating back to 1916. The collection features over 70,000 works from the early 1800s to the present that are by California artists and that represent significant subject matter of the region. Featuring works of all disciplines, the collection includes painting, sculpture, photography, craft and decorative arts, conceptual work, and new media, as well as documentary materials such as artists' tools, maquettes, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and other ephemera.
The collection is particularly strong in California landscape paintings from the 1850s to the 1880s; Gold Rush–era artwork and daguerreotypes; furniture and decorative arts from the Arts and Crafts period, including a large collection of painting, craft and decorative art, and furniture by Arthur and Lucia Mathews; Bay Area Figurative painting and sculpture; California ceramics and jewelry by Margaret De Patta.
Photography collections include Dorothea Lange's personal archive of approximately 25,000 negatives and over 10,000 prints dating from 1919 to 1965, as well as contact sheets, manuscripts, journals, correspondence, and field notes. Other large photographic collections include the Roger Sturtevant Collection, Joanne Leonard and Helen Nester Collections, along with a vast collection of significant California photographers. The Paul Chadbourne Mills Archive of California Art contains documentary materials related to thousands of painters, sculptors, printmakers, craftspeople, and photographers active in California during the past 200 years.
Bay Area Figurative Art
The Oakland Museum of California has a premier collection of early and late Bay Area Figurative paintings and works on paper. Bay Area Figuration grew out of the post-World War II era when West Coast artists adapted the free use of paint in the prevailing Abstract Expressionist style of the period, and applied it to describing forms and figures. In this way, the region contributed a significant new voice of painterly experimentation and zeal to the art of the times. The collection includes early Bay Area Figurative painters, such as David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn, as well as later practitioners such as Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, and Nathan Oliviera.
Dorothea Lange Archive
Supported by government programs and new picture magazines like LIFE, Dorothea Lange and other photographers of the 1930s and '40s created an indelible record of everyday life in difficult times. The Great Depression caused many photographers to consider the camera as an instrument of social change. Foremost among this group was Berkeley photographer Dorothea Lange, whose intimate pictures of people in distress were driven by a deep personal empathy. She continued her intensely personal work after the Depression, creating series on the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, Irish country life, and postwar suburban California, among many other projects. The Oakland Museum of California houses Lange’s personal archive, a gift from the artist that includes 25,000 negatives, 6,000 vintage prints, field notes, and personal memorabilia. Curators and researchers from around the world visit the Museum to access the Lange collection.
Arthur and Lucia Mathews
The art of Arthur and Lucia Mathews brought the spirit of the Arts and Crafts to Northern California. Inspired by the state’s natural beauty, they created fine furnishings decorated with California imagery, which they sold in their store, The Furniture Shop. OMCA holds more than 500 paintings, drawings, frames, furniture, and other decorative art produced by Arthur and Lucia Mathews in the early years of the 20th century. In addition, the Museum is also home to the Mathews's archive, a collection of sketches, notes, cartoons, and other memorabilia.
Joanne Leonard and Helen Nestor Collections
The Art Department continues to acquire major photographic collections. In 1998 the Museum received the archive of Berkeley photographer Helen Nestor. Containing more than 2,000 prints and 20,000 negatives, the collection highlights Northern California’s counterculture of the 1960s and '70s. Nestor’s photographs of the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley are among the most familiar images of that turbulent era.
Joanne Leonard, Nestor’s close friend, has donated an archive of 2,000 negatives and 500 prints documenting her West Oakland neighborhood in the 1960s. She used her camera to capture the grit and grace of everyday life in one of California’s oldest African American neighborhoods. Leonard made the gift in honor of the late Oakland Museum of California curator of photography Therese Heyman.
Early Landscape Painting
Once the intense excitement of the Gold Rush calmed, Californians turned their gaze to the natural beauty of the environment. East Coast and European painters like Albert Bierstadt and William Keith, and California’s first African-American artist, Grafton Tyler Brown, conveyed a sense of the sublime in the newly discovered wonders of Yosemite. William Coulter, Marius Dahlgren and others captured coastal light and weather. Later, California-born artists like Lucia Mathews, Joseph Raphael, and Guy Rose fostered a calmer, more intimate vision of the California landscape. The Museum holds an unparalleled collection of California landscape painting, dating from the early 19th century.
Gold Rush Era Works
During the California Gold Rush artists and photographers joined the untold thousands of gold seekers who migrated to California, creating a vivid record of one of the 19th century’s most important global events. Many of the most familiar and iconic images of the Gold Rush may be found in the collections of the Oakland Museum of California. Highlights include San Francisco in July, 1849, by George Henry Burgess, E. Hall Martin’s Mountain Jack and a Wandering Miner, and portraits of California pioneers by William Smith Jewett and Charles Christian Nahl.
Photography arrived along with the forty-niners, and OMCA holds one of the finest collections of California daguerreotypes anywhere. Pre-dating the Civil War by twenty years, these jewel-like photographs in brass and leather cases constitute the world’s first photographic record of a major historical event, and are the cornerstone of the Museum’s photography collection.
California’s rich earth has nurtured a bounty of internationally recognized ceramists. OMCA honors these pioneering artists and has actively collected California ceramics throughout its history. The collection of over 800 objects covers the history of California ceramics from the late 19th century to present day. Highlights include more than 100 pieces of Arequipa pottery and a large selection of works by Peter Voulkos, spanning his career from award-winning potter to groundbreaking innovator of expressive, abstract ceramic sculpture. The Museum is also home to important work by Robert Arneson, Stephen De Staebler, Viola Frey, Otto and Gertrude Natzler, and Marguerite Wildenhein.
Margaret De Patta Jewelry
Studio jewelry pioneer Margaret De Patta blended Constructivist principals with Bauhaus design to create miniature sculpture that moved with its wearer. Based in the Bay Area, De Patta is credited with starting the American studio jewelry movement on the West Coast. OMCA holds the largest collection of De Patta’s work, most of which was donated by her husband Eugene Bielawski after the artist’s untimely death in 1964. The Margaret De Patta Memorial Collection includes pendants, rings, brooches, and other items of adornment designed and produced by the artist over the course of her 35-year career. In addition, OMCA also houses important archival materials that document the artist’s life as well as her business, Designs Contemporary.