Photo courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art

SAN DIEGO MUSEUM OF ART

It's not all that surprising that the city's oldest and largest art museum (1450 El Prado) has a reputation for skewing a little, well, old. And no, I'm not talking about its vast collection of Italian masters. For years, the museum had no problem remaining tourist-friendly and uncontroversial, but over the last decade or so, and even more so since the arrival of Executive Director Roxana Velásquez in 2010 and curator Ariel Plotek a few years later, the Museum seems to be heading in exciting new directions. From renovating the outside sculpture garden and showcasing more local artists, to the addition of the hipster-friendly Panama 66 next door, the museum appears to be making a play for cool and, well, younger patrons. Nowhere is this more evident than at SDMA's semi-regular "Culture & Cocktails" parties. The evening events are often themed around a new exhibition and there's almost always a line of gussied-up millennials taking advantage of the free cocktails and small bites. As for the art, there's still an emphasis on the historical over the contemporary, but last year's The Art of Music and this year's Sebastião Salgado exhibition, are proof that the old dog can learn new tricks. Oh, and you still can't beat that amazing building and façade.

"Not Quite Nothing"
Photo by Emily Corkery

SAN DIEGO ART INSTITUTE

Just across the Prado from SDMA, the façade of the San Diego Art Institute (1439 EL Prado) is much more unassuming. To be honest, it's downright boring. But once patrons step inside, they'll find a contemporary art space that's showcasing some of the most promising local and national artists. It wasn't always this way. For most of its 75 years, the Institute was primarily used as a members-only showcase space for amateur artists. And while that formula was certainly great for members, the shows that were produced often had no curatorial direction. This changed vastly, and some would argue heavy-handedly, with the arrival of Ginger Shulick Porcella in 2014, who transformed the space into something broadly hipper and more accessible. Some folks really didn't like the new direction, but Porcella stuck to her guns and exhibitions like Sweet Gongs Vibrating and SDAI's recent foray into an artist residency program are further proof that the new direction is working. Its openings and regular "Mixtape" parties have pulled in a new audience that might have otherwise avoided Balboa Park. And that's really the greatest things to report: However controversial, Porcella has transformed SDAI into something Balboa Park has always needed. A legitimate contemporary art museum in Balboa Park that hasn't lost touch with its gallery heart.


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