Former Guggenheim deputy director now leads UC Irvine museum

Kim Kanatani shares her vision for the world’s most impressive collection of California art.

UC Irvine recently announced plans to build the Langson Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA) on its North Campus. We asked inaugural Museum Director Kim Kanatani what to expect.

Q. Describe UCI’s art collection.

A. In 2017, UCI established IMCA after having received two donations of major art collections. One by the Irvine family’s James Irvine Swinden, with 1,300 works of California impressionism and pleinair art. And one from the estate of Gerald Buck, with 3,000 works of modern and contemporary art by artists based in California.

Q. What is your goal for the museum?

A. To be the epicenter for California art. That is, works made about California, by artists who are creating radical forms about their experiences working and living here. California has the fifth-largest economy in the world, and its art is as global in scope as the state itself.

Q. Where can we see this art?

A. We have an interim location on Von Karman Avenue, about a mile from campus, where people can get a sneak preview of our future museum. Our next exhibition opens in June.

Q. How did UCI come to build the new museum?

A. Back in the 1960s, architect William Pereira, who designed the Master Plan for UCI and the city of Irvine, envisioned an art museum for the campus. The significant art donations became the impetus for Chancellor Howard Gillman to anoint this project and build a new gateway to UCI on North Campus.

Q. Where will the museum be built?

A. The university selected a location along Campus Drive, east of Jamboree Road, which is part of our North Campus. We hope construction starts by 2025.

Q. Why did you choose to leave the Guggenheim Museum in New York to take this job?

A. I am a Southern California native. I attended UCLA, and my husband graduated from UCI, so taking this job was a homecoming for us.

Q. What do you do when not working?

A. I take full advantage of all that Irvine has to offer, from biking to hiking to running trails to the beautiful lap pools sprinkled throughout University Hills, where I live.