Newly Expanded Hilbert Museum
Newly Expanded Hilbert Museum

Hilbert Museum of California Art

Residents and visitors from afar have grown to know and love the Hilbert Museum of California Art, located in Old Towne Orange and owned by Chapman University.  The free art destination has become a popular tourist attraction, with top ratings on Yelp and Google.

Art appreciators have waited patiently for the museum to complete the year-long construction on its expansion project, which triples the size of the venue at its permanent location across the street from the Orange train station.  The museum, founded and funded through the ongoing generosity of art collectors and philanthropists Mark and Janet Hilbert of Newport Coast, has announced its 2024 opening, capping the ambitious project to expand from 7,500 to 22,000 square feet.

Visitors in the New Year will find a striking new two-building ensemble offering 26 galleries for rotating displays of the more than 5,000 oils, watercolors, illustrations, drawings, pieces of movie production art and more in the growing Hilbert Collection.  The expansion includes a café, community room for classes and events, research library and outdoor courtyard and native gardens that create a new front door to the museum.

“It’s extremely gratifying to be announcing opening dates and exhibitions after years of careful planning for this spectacular next chapter in Orange County’s museum renaissance,” says Founder Mark Hilbert, who with his wife gifted the couple’s extensive art collection to Chapman to make it available for public view.

“We’re thrilled to be so close to welcoming visitors to the expanded Hilbert Museum,” says the museum’s Director, Mary Platt.  “This stunning new expansion is a dream come true.  The building itself is an eye-catching piece of art that provides a visual welcome.”

Platt is planning a dynamic opening slate of nine exhibitions showcasing the museum’s focus on California Scene paintings (narrative scenes of California life in watercolor or oils, from the 1930s to the present), plus its rich holdings in animation and movie art, Native American art and American illustration and design.  Throughout the year, a special rotating exhibition will showcase various artists’ interpretations of Orange County.

For the expansion, Chapman University selected architects Johnston Marklee of Los Angeles, who conceived a floating, open-air structure that unites the two gallery buildings and serves as a frontispiece for the 40’ x 16’ “Pleasures Along the Beach.”  This signature 1969 glass-tile mosaic (detail above) by acclaimed artist Millard Sheets was rescued and moved from a former Home Savings & Loan building in Santa Monica in 2019, and currently is being painstakingly restored on the museum’s west-facing façade.

According to Sharon Johnston, Founding Partner of Johnston Marklee, the museum stands in an industrial corridor within the Cypress Street Barrio historic district and the design pays tribute to local Orange industrial and mercantile architecture.  Designed to sculpt light and shadow with simple stacked forms and integrated garden patios suitable to the temperate climate, the museum exterior recalls images from the Hilbert Collection of Southern California as it was developing early in the 20th century.

“We have created an open-air courtyard with native gardens as the new entry,” says Johnston.  “The visitor experience begins outside with the Millard Sheets mosaic, framing a civic space that links the Chapman University campus to the city of Orange.  Together with the four urban markers and the courtyard, the low-lying industrial vernacular of the existing buildings is adapted into a new, expanded museum experience.”

Exhibitions Opening on February 23:

California Art from The Hilbert Permanent Collection (curated by Gordon McClelland)
Millard Sheets(Curated by Jean Stern)
A Matter of Style: Modernism in California Art(Curated by Gordon McClelland)
Same Place, Another Time: Views of Orange County(Curated by Gordon McClelland)
Mary Blair’s Wonderland: Imagining Disney’s ‘Alice’” (Curated by Mary Platt)
Norman Rockwell: Capturing the American Spirit(Curated by Mary Platt)
Eye Dazzlers: Marvels of Navajo Weaving from the Hilbert Collection(Curated by Mary Platt)
Emigdio Vasquez: Works from the Fred Ortiz Collection(Curated by Fred Ortiz)
Art of the Airwaves: Radios from The Hilbert Collection(Curated by Clark Silva)

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Hours for the expanded Hilbert Museum are 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Saturday, starting February 23.  Grand Opening Ceremony: 9:30 am in the museum courtyard, Friday, February 23.  Admission to the museum is free, but online reservations are recommended: For updates:

Article Published in the
Jan / Feb 24 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Images provided by the Hilbert Museum of California Art
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