First, may we say, three cheers for the on-site free parking–and that is before we even get to the crux of the biscuit: before PMCA opened in 2002, not one museum in the Golden State was devoted solely to the display of California art. Now we have a dedicated space to showcase the art, architecture and design of California artists from 1850 to the present.
And what a showcase. Founded by Pasadena Collectors Bob and Arlene Oltman, this ultra-modern 30,000-square-foot museum was designed by MDA Johnson Favaro Architecture and Urban Design to include gallery space, a community room and bookstore, and a rooftop terrace with a dramatic view of Pasadena’s domed City Hall and San Gabriel Mountains—the subject of never-ending interest to California’s fine plein-air painters. As one would expect of a new museum, it took a couple of years for PMCA to hit its stride, but now it’s done just that, and it’s become the secret treasure of Pasadena. There’s no permanent exhibitions, but instead three shows at a time fill the three galleries: the main one, a smaller side gallery, and the smallest rear gallery, where the edgier work often finds a home. All work must have California roots, but otherwise the boundaries are broad—so we’ve enjoyed everything from the wood-block prints of early Pasadena artist Frances Gearhart, to a career retrospective of Wayne Thiebaud, to the ceramics of Edith Heath, to works by young artists inspired by the Los Angeles River, to cover art from Westways magazine.
This museum sits in between Old Pasadena and the Playhouse District and is a neighbor to the Pacific Asia Museum, so the ambitious art lover might enjoy both small museums in one art-filled afternoon. There’s no café, but there’s a terrific little shop, and restaurants are plentiful just a couple of blocks away.
Finally, savvy locals know that either the Kenny Scharf-graffitied garage or the rooftop terrace are superb places to rent out for a wedding, bar mitzvah or fund-raiser.
Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 E. Union St., Pasadena
Wed-Sun noon- 5 p.m
Adults $7, students & seniors $5