The San Diego Museum of Art contains both permanent installations and rotating exhibits. Some exhibits are annual events, such as the Art Alive event which occurs every year in April. During this fundraiser, artists replicate one of the works on display at the museum with flower petals and other organic material.
Art Alive is just one of the many different non-permanent exhibits at the museum. Check the official museum website for more information about rotating attractions, or check out the permanent attractions listed below.
Keep in mind that due to the large size of the collection, not every piece of art owned by the museum will be on display at the same time. Parts of the permanent collection may be rotated out to give other works time to shine. This means there’s always something new to see on repeat visits!
Visions of the West
The Visions of the West exhibits features artwork depicting the cowboys and settlers that populated the American West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Artwork on display also features the natural landscapes and Native American culture captured by artists to keep this period of time alive. Together, these pieces tell the tale of the American West as it was perceived at the turn of the 20th century.
At Home? No problem
Enjoy at-home art activities for emerging and established art students of all ages from the Museum Education team. Explore drawing exercises, crafts, writing prompts, videos, podcasts, and more inspired by The San Diego Museum of Art collections.
Any artwork that is not currently on display is stored in the vaults. The Visible Vaults exhibit gives visitors a window to peek into this storage, including the fragile and light-sensitive pieces that would otherwise not be on display. In particular, this exhibit houses many different Japanese woodblock prints, ceramics, and sculptures.
Modern and Contemporary Art
While much of the museum’s gallery was created hundreds or thousands of years ago, there are modern components too. In the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, you’ll see how modern painters break from many of the old art traditions and create works that are entirely new in their construction, tone, and purpose.
Renaissance to Realism
The Renaissance to Realism exhibit celebrates the beginning of the Baroque period during the 1600s. This period gave birth to naturalism, an art style that involves depicting things as they are seen in nature as opposed to more stylized modern art or idealized Renaissance depictions. The art on display includes landscapes, still life art, historical subjects, literature, and even pieces that realistically depict mythological stories.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
The impressionism period began in Paris, France in the early 1870s, but its aftershocks lasted until well into the 20th century. The Impressionism and Post-Impressionism exhibit showcases paintings during this time period as well as works inspired by the artistic era. Featured artists include Amadeo Modigliani, Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, and Edouard Vuillard.
California Colorists explores the American Pop Art movement as well as artistic responses to Abstract Expressionism through a distinctly Californian lens. The exhibit takes Wayne Thiebaud’s iconic piece Caged Pie and showcases it alongside his contemporary Californian artists, many of whom adopted a similar style of painting everyday scenes with loose brushwork, strong lighting, and blue shadows to give their art a distinct look.
Art of the Open Air
Art of the Open Air is a showcase of sculptures in the Plaza de Panama sculpture garden. In the garden are sculptures made out of various materials and in all shapes and sizes. This exhibit is unique in that it is accessible outside of the museum, allowing the museum to provide free public access to these works.
Art After Hours
Art After Hours is an attraction that runs on Friday evenings. Guests are invited to tour the museum after closing time and enjoy the weekly showcase. Adult guests can order beer and cocktails at Panama 66, while they select from a menu of locally sourced food and experience live musical performances.
Though alcoholic beverages are served with ID, this event is open to all ages.
Culture and Cocktails
Culture and Cocktails is a 21+ only event and attraction. Enjoy a night of good drinks, great conversation, and amazing artwork, complete with a rotating featured art exhibit. These events include exciting music and dance performances, and catering by local businesses.