Must-See New Art Exhibitions in Orange County

This Spring the special exhibition lineup at Orange County’s museums offers a glimpse behind the scenes of California life and culture.

Highlights include glimpses into The Walt Disney Company, intimate views of operatic costumes and stage designs, early California landscape paintings and a unique opportunity to experience an up-close view of sculptures by artists like Judy Chicago, Chris Burden and Ken Price. Here are eight of the newest art exhibitions to see in Orange County this Spring.

Bowers Museum
Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic
March 7, 2020 – August 30, 2020

This March the Bowers Museum will open up a carefully guarded archive of Walt Disney history in “Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic.” The traveling exhibit, which premiered at D23 Expo Japan in 2018, will offer several rare items only on loan to the Bowers including original artwork, costumes, and props that tell the story of The Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney himself. From nostalgic classics like never-before-displayed sketches for Fantasia, a replica of Walt’s office, ghouls from the Haunted Mansion attraction to modern-day favorites like maquettes from Frozen. This is a special Disney lover’s exhibit that feels right at home in Orange County.

Tickets for this exhibit are issued on a timed schedule, allowing visitors to have a more intimate viewing experience.

Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street
Santa Ana, California 92706
Admission: Free – $25

Orange County Museum of Art

Closer Look: Intimate-Scale Sculpture from the Permanent Collection
April 7, 2020 – September 1, 2019

The Orange County Museum of Art is in transition, waiting on a new exhibition space, but in the meantime their programming is still as fresh as ever. This season OCMA will continue the strategy of considering its interim location as a laboratory for artistic experimentation, featuring six new exhibitions by Pacific Rim artists and a seventh show featuring objects from the museum’s collection. Exhibiting artists include Diego Berruecos, York Chang, Victoria Fu and Matt Rich, Fritzia Irízar, UuDam Tran Nguyen, and Hiromi Takizawa.

“Closer Look: Intimate-Scale Sculpture from the Permanent Collection” provides a focused look at small sculpture in the OCMA permanent collection. Selected for their innovative materials, playfulness in scale and historical importance within the context of significant art movements and artistic careers, each artwork in “Closer Look” is intended to be viewed closely, providing the viewer with an intimate moment to make slow and careful observations about content and construction. Featured artists include Libby Black, Chris Burden, Vija Celmins, Judy Chicago, Joel Morrison, and Ken Price.

South Coast Plaza Village
1661 W. Sunflower Avenue,
Santa Ana, CA 92704
Admission: Free

Fullerton Museum

Shifting Years: the Art of Anthony Ausgang
May 23, 2020 – August 16, 2020 

Heavily influenced by animation pioneer Tex Avery’s notorious Pachuco Wolf and pinup dolls, Anthony Ausgang paints a feline protagonist that gives the viewer a glimpse into a parallel reality. This is Ausgang’s first museum retrospective, featuring 40 years worth of vibrant paintings that evoke sixties psychedelia and the colorful rock posters of the counterculture of that time. Ausgang is an artist very much of our time, reflecting the gritty underbelly of the contemporary American ethos with artwork that is littered with absurdist references to mid-century subcultures.

Fullerton Museum Center
301 N. Pomona Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92832
Admission: Free – $5

Nixon Library

Pat Nixon: A Life of Service
March 16, 2019 – June 3, 2019

This year, our nation recognizes the 50th anniversary of Pat Nixon becoming First Lady.

Pat Nixon was the First Lady of many firsts, who rose from the humblest and harshest of beginnings to positively impact millions of people in our nation and around the world as she substantively changed the role of the First Lady to include that of official U.S. representative and diplomat. “People are my project,” she said on more than one occasion as she championed volunteerism by lending her significant support to worthwhile organizations across the country; indeed, she personally chaired many prominent national organizations and took an active interest in furthering their missions. This Spring through Summer, the Nixon Library will feature a special exhibit featuring the former first ladies clothing, along with images of her wearing it on goodwill trips around the world.

Richard Nixon Library
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
Admission: Free – $23

The Hilbert Museum of California Art

Los Angeles Area Scene Paintings
November 2, 2019 – May 2, 2020

“Los Angeles Area Scene Paintings” is an inside glimpse into the vignettes of everyday life in Los Angeles, featuring more than 70 paintings created between the early 1900s and the present day. This carefully curated collection focuses on historic landmarks like Chavez Ravine, Bunker Hill, industrial Los Angeles and the LA Harbor. Featured artists include Millard Sheets, Rex Brandt, Lee Blair, Dorothy Sklar, Barse Miller, Luvena Vysekal, Arthur Beaumont, Roger Kuntz, Edward Biberman, Hardie Gramatky, Eugenie Fisher, Ralph Hulett, Burr Singer, Ben Abril, George Gibson, Tony Peters and Bradford J. Salamon.

Hilbert Museum
167 N. Atchison Street
Orange, CA, 92866
Admission: Free

UCI Institute and Museum for California Art

Sublime Wonderlands
January 25, 2020 – May 23, 2020

Focusing on idealized representations of the North American wilderness, Sublime Wonderlands examines long-lasting associations of the American landscape with rugged beauty, limitless resources, and national pride. Assembling a selection of over forty landscape paintings spanning the late 1800s to the 1980s and ranging in style from American Romanticism to contemporary abstraction, the paintings gathered here chart the development of a persistent narrative about landscape and identity. Many of the works on view depict regions that would at the turn of the century be designated as National Park areas. Natural monuments such as Yosemite’s Half Dome or Vernal Falls became visual icons and sites of pilgrimage for artists and settlers beginning in the mid-1800s.

UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
18881 Von Karman Ave., Suite 100
Airport Tower Building
Irvine, CA 92612
Admission: Free

Laguna Art Museum

Travels in Mexico: Watercolors from the Gene and Diane Crain Collection
February 29 – May 31, 2020

The Laguna Art Museum’s permanent collection focuses on California artist. In their newest exhibition, “Travels in Mexico”, the museum highlights a series of twentieth-century watercolors from the Crain Collection. These paintings were done in Mexico from the 1930s through the 1980s, by California artists including Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, Emil J. Kosa, Jr., Phil Paradise, Millard Sheets, and Milford Zornes.

Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Admission: Free – $7

John Wayne Airport

The Art of Opera
January 2020 – June 2020

Known as a pioneer of the British and international fashion scenes since the late 60s, Dame Zandra Rhodes brings her theatrical sense of style and design to John Wayne Airport in a new showcase, ‘The Art of Opera.’ Displays throughout the airport showcase her vibrant textile-inspired set and costume designs for two operas, AÏDA and The Pearl Fishers.  “When it comes to art and culture, Orange County takes center stage through the combination of local, national, and international creativity and artistry,” said Orange County County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel. “Visitors, as well as art and fashion enthusiasts alike are sure to enjoy viewing the colorfully detailed opera costumes and set designs by Dame Zandra Rhodes.”

John Wayne Airport
18601 Airport Way
Santa Ana, CA 92707
Admission: Free to passengers

With all of these museums, it’s a good idea to double-check hours of operations before planning a visit as they sometimes change for special events and holidays. If these inspiring museums have left you craving more culture, we encourage you to check out some of the  ‘Must-See Art Walks in Orange County.’