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Monday, September 27, 2021

Margrit Mondavi’s $2 million donation jumpstarts fundraising for UC Davis art museum

Philanthropist and UC Davis donor Margrit Mondavi has pledged $2 million for the proposed UC Davis Museum of Art, a project that has been in the works since 2006. The museum would house the university’s collection of 4,700 artworks currently in the Nelson Gallery, as well as new collections and multidisciplinary collaborations.

Mondavi’s donation kicks off the museum’s initial fundraising effort of $30 million to complete the design phase of the project. Dean of the division of humanities, arts and cultural studies Jessie Ann Owens met with over 100 participants to discuss the vision and focus of the UC Davis Art Museum. A business plan and strategy were then developed, but the design phase required more funding to proceed.

Mondavi’s contribution provides a basis for the fundraising goal, and planners hope Mondavi’s donation will inspire others to contribute, including a multi-million dollar donor to name the museum.

The proposed location for the completed museum is the undeveloped land nearby Vanderhoef Quad, currently home of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Alumni and Visitors’ Center and the Graduate School of Management Conference Center. It would be visible and accessible from Highway 80, allowing it to be a resource for both UC Davis and the community.

Renny Pritikin, director of the Richard L. Nelson Gallery and Fine Art Collection, said that the museum would feature works from the Nelson Gallery as well as outside contributions.

“[The museum] would be an interdisciplinary, cross-departmental institution that pulls on the expertise of science, social science, English and art, so that the programs appeal to all the different departments and are inclusive of a lot of different interests and points of view,” Pritikin said.

“The idea would be, if I invited an astronomer to come in and collaborate with an artist to figure out an exhibition to pool their talents, or an artist who works with digital and the Internet or an artist working with someone from the computer science department,” Pritikin said.

The Nelson Gallery is UC Davis’ main art repository. It features works of nearly every medium from antiquity to the modern day, with an overall concentration on Northern California artists after World War II. In particular, there is a special emphasis on contemporary and “funk” movement pieces created by UC Davis faculty in the 1960s.

Gina Werfel, a UC Davis art professor and featured Nelson Gallery artist, said the museum will have a large enough space to display the permanent collection as well as temporary shows.

“The Nelson has been a well-kept secret with an interesting teaching collection of art supplemented by excellent shows,” Werfel said.

The Nelson Gallery serves the university’s art department and campus community as well as Northern California and the Central Valley as an influential yet little-known center for art education, exhibition and public events. Many hope that a museum would increase awareness of UC Davis’ significant involvement and long history in the arts.

“The Nelson Gallery collection is one of the finest on the west coast,” said Julia Couzens, who received her Master of Fine Arts from UC Davis in 1990 and has three paintings in the gallery, in an e-mail interview.

“But other than curators and art historians, who knows that?” she said.

Sculptor Dave Lane, whose work is featured in the Nelson Gallery, praised the proposed museum’s opportunity to showcase UC Davis’ important contributions to modern art.

“It’s always seemed ironic to me how much influence the UCD art program has had in the world, yet how very few local folks are aware of this,” Lane said. “Because the funk art movement and west-coast conceptualism can trace their origin to UCD, it’s all the more important to provide visibility to work in the collection, if only for academic availability.”

Pritikin said that more definite plans for the contents of the museum are still years away, as the design of the building is highly important for artists and collectors deciding whether to contribute their work.

“Since the purpose of a museum collection is to preserve objects for future generations to enjoy and study, having a secure and safe building is a priority,” he said. “Collectors have assured us that when we have such a building, they will consider major gifts to us.”

ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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