As the first woman to be appointed as Executive Director at The San Diego Museum of Art during its over 90 years as a major arts institution in Southern California, Roxana Velásquez’s perspective on the last 10 years is unique. “We are aware that our collections and what we display on our walls reflect and shape our understanding of all cultures and peoples,” she says, with her trademark emphasis on the power and responsibility art and museums have within our culture. Not content to rest on past laurels, however, she stresses, “We must further develop inclusive materials and context for our visitors, to allow them to connect with the art on view.” She is keenly focused on how to build on the successes of the past decade, always pushing toward a better future.

With an eye on the established strength of the collection, Velásquez forged further and deeper international connections. Loans of American art went as far as China and works from the Binney Collection of Indian paintings traveled to the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid as well as to India, Canada, and Mexico. Velásquez herself was invited to India and China to further represent and establish reciprocal relationships with many cultural institutions throughout the globe. These are but a sampling of the important Museum milestones that have been achieved in the past 10 years under the Velásquez’s pivotal leadership.



The year started beautifully with Bouguereau & America, which gave visitors a look at the elegant canvases of this popular 19th-century French artist.

Gallery photograph from Bouguereau & America.

A new work of art by contemporary artist Cauleen Smith inspired by one of the most important works in the Museum’s collection, Juan Sánchez Cotán’s Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber (ca. 1602), premiered at the Museum. The pairing of old and new were on view in Juan Sánchez Cotán and Cauleen Smith: Mystical Time and Deceptive Light.

The COVID-19 pandemic closed museums and businesses creating new challenges, but it also enabled the Museum to apply creativity to pursuing new opportunities. The annual Museum fundraiser became Virtual Art Alive and brought our community together online while also raising $1 million for the Museum. During this time, the Museum also launched the Masterpiece Minute podcast and pioneered online art events, including Virtual SDMA+ partnership performances and online lectures. Art can guide us through crisis. It always has and will continue to do so.


Two groundbreaking exhibitions, Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain and Black Life: Images of Resistance and Resilience in Southern California, drew record crowds to the Museum.

SDMA+ San Diego Ballet dancers share pop-up performances complementing Art and Empire: The Golden Age of Spain.
Gallery photograph from Black Life: Images of Resistance and Resilience in Southern California.


Epic Tales from Ancient India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art highlighted a strength of the Museum’s collection, the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection. This exhibition highlighted stories from classical literature that the paintings were created to illustrate. A robust schedule of programming of dance, music, and storytelling accompanied the exhibition.

A masterpiece of the Renaissance joins the Museum’s permanent collection. Lucas Cranach’s Nymph of the Spring, ca. 1540 is a stellar example of a mythological nude. The imagery alludes to Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt.

Lucas Cranach the Younger. Nymph of the Spring, ca. 1540. Oil on panel. Purchased with funds provided by Toni Bloomberg; Gene and Taffin Ray; an anonymous donor and the Museum’s Acquisition Fund. 2018.1.


The Museum completed a more than $4 million series of upgrades to the Museum. This included improving the physical infrastructure of 75 percent of the galleries, upgrading technology systems, and modernizing the nearly two-decades-old HVAC system.

An exhibition of Latin American masterworks from the Pérez Simón Collection included celebrated artists such as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. The exhibition also introduced San Diego audiences to lesser known, but greatly important Latin American figures in modern art.

With funds provided by the African and Pacific Arts Council, the Museum acquired prints by two renowned African American contemporary artists—influential practitioners Martin Puryear and Alison Saar.

Martin Puryear. Untitled, 1999. Etching on paper. Museum purchase with funds provided by the African and Pacific Arts Council. 2017.38.

The portrait of young John Alfred Parsons Millet by the most fashionable portrait painter of the late 19th century, John Singer Sargent, joined the Museum’s permanent collection.

John Singer Sargent. John Alfred Parsons Millet, 1892. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds from The Jack Thomas Family Charitable Fund in memory of Patricia B. Thomas; Toni Bloomberg; Gene and Taffin Ray; Sheryl and Harvey White; and Mrs. John Burnham, by exchange. 2017.261.


Visible Vaults opened in November, presenting eye-opening, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Museum’s collection. A wide selection of rarely seen works is available for discovery, from Toulouse-Lautrec prints displayed in drawers, to a cross-cultural comparison of ceramic pieces. At the entrance to the galleries are glass cases that feature an intriguing assortment of small sculptures and models.

Gallery photograph from Visible Vaults.

Art of the Open Air, an ongoing free public art exhibition, opened in the plaza in front of the Museum with monumental works by some of art history’s most important sculptors, including Auguste Rodin and Francisco Zúñiga, among others.

A beautiful oil on canvas portrait painted around 1632 by Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Bartholomew, joined the collection.

Jusepe de Ribera (AKA Lo Spagnoletto). Saint Bartholomew, ca. 1632. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by Tatiana and Robert Dotson, Jene and Paul Mosher, Taffin and Gene Ray, Ellen and Bill Whelan, Demi and Frank Rogozienski, Jill Lozier, Rebecca and Mitch Mitchell, Rana Sampson and Jerry Sanders. 2016.68.


Art After Hours launched, extending Museum hours and offering discounted admission on Friday nights to enable more convenience and availability for full-time college students, working professionals, and others with limited scheduling flexibility.

The Museum began work with the tech firm Guru to develop an app to enhance the art experience in-gallery and at-home. The Museum also forged partnerships with institutions such as UC San Diego to develop research and educational initiatives, as well as with arts organizations including the San Diego Ballet, San Diego Shakespeare Society, and San Diego Opera to enhance the Museum’s position as a cultural hub and illustrate interconnections that help further the enjoyment and understanding of art.

On the Steps at SDMA: Telling Epic Tales in 2018 featured a dance performance by students of Andaaz Dance Academy.

During the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park, the Museum presented the exhibition The Art of Music, an expansive effort with input from an international team of scholars on a theme that spanned diverse geographic regions, time periods, and genres to illustrate the connection of visual art and music.

Gallery photograph from The Art of Music.

An exhibition of large-scale photographs by Moroccan-born, NYC-based artist Lalla Essayadi offered a view into the life of women in Morocco and a critique of Orientalist painting traditions.

Lalla Essaydi. Harem #14C, 2009. Chromogenic print on Mounted to aluminum and protected with Mactac luster laminate. Museum purchase with Art Acquisitions Fund, 2015. 2015.5.


In September, the Museum opened its first-ever gallery dedicated to the art of Iran, thanks in part to the Persian Cultural Center with whom the Museum inaugurated a partnership for an annual Mehregan celebration.

Muhammad Sadiq. Pen box with European figures and landscapes, 1768–1769. Papier-maché. Museum Acquisitions Fund. 2014.18.a-b.

Gauguin to Warhol: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Gallery made its only West Coast stop at the Museum, bringing this incredible collection featuring masterpieces by Van Gogh, Kahlo, Pollock, and other luminaries of the modern era.

Gallery photograph from Gauguin to Warhol: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Gallery.

Ninety years after the Museum’s permanent collection was founded with the gift of a painting by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, the Legler Benbough Foundation funded the Museum purchase of another oil on canvas by this great Spanish Impressionist: By the Seashore, Valencia.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. By the Seashore, Valencia, 1908. Oil on canvas. Museum Purchase with funds provided by the Legler Benbough Foundation. 2014.133.

Thanks to the generosity of Conrad Prebys and Debbie Turner, the Museum acquired Saint Francis in Prayer in a Grotto, ca. 1655, by Francisco de Zurbarán, enhancing the Museum’s strong collection of art from the “Golden Age” of Spain and making The San Diego Museum of Art the US museum with the most works by this pivotal artist.

Francisco de Zurbarán. Saint Francis in Prayer in a Grotto, ca. 1958. Oil on canvas. Gift of Conrad Prebys and Debbie Turner. 2014.132.


Open Spaces was a San Diego Museum of Art program funded by a James Irvine Foundation grant to develop public art in underserved communities. Four communities in San Diego County participated in this exciting, two-year initiative, beginning with Logan Heights and Lincoln Park in 2013. Lemon Grove and National City participated in 2014. Open Spaces allowed the Museum to work toward realizing its important goal of helping to develop public art that reflects the unique social fabric of each participating neighborhood; engaging neighbors through direct and ongoing encounters with art; supporting the creativity and imagination of San Diego communities; strengthening our communities’ sense of place and identity; and creating positive economic impacts through art.

The former “Asian Court,” which was until 1975 an open-air section of the Museum, was completely redesigned to better display and care for the great selection of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art objects that constitute approximately 45 percent of the permanent collection. The opening of Arts of East Asia marked the culmination of eight years of research and acquisitions, and displayed more than 100 objects never before on view. With reclaimed teak wood floors, videos, and interactive didactics including model forgeries alongside displays, this $1 million renovation was designed by the renowned firm of Staples and Charles.

Gallery photograph from Arts of East Asia.


American Art from the Museum’s outstanding holdings featured in Behold, America!, a collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Timken Museum, and local artists Charles Reiffel and Marienela de la Hoz had solo exhibitions in the fall of 2012.

Imagined as the Truth, an exhibition of works by Yinka Shonibare MBE, one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary artists, was on view during the Summer Salon Series in response to works on view in The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries featuring four monumental tapestries that commemorate the deeds of Afonso V, King of Portugal.

photo of a woman
Yinka Shonibare, Addio del Passato, 2011. Digital video. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai

The Human Beast exhibition featured the bequest of 48 German Expressionist paintings, drawings, and prints from the estate of Kondon-Giesberger including works by Otto Dix, Egon Schiele, and Max Pechstein, joining a strong group of Expressionist works that had long been at the Museum.

Gallery photograph from The Human Beast.

A remarkable sculpture by Pedro de Mena of San Diego, the namesake of our city, was acquired by the Museum as a counterpart to the important collection of Spanish Baroque paintings.

Pedro de Mena. San Diego de Alcalá, 1665–1670. Polychromed wood. Museum Purchase with Funds from the Estate of Donald Shira and from Anne Otterson. 2012.77.a-b.


Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman explored the ways that women, art, and fashion came together to contribute to a new sense of women’s roles in society in the mid-to-late 18th century.

Gallery photograph from Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman.

Personal Pathways: Southeast African Art from the Sana Foundation Collection at The San Diego Museum of Art showcased a Museum milestone and is directly tied to the Museum’s mission of connecting art and people from around the world. With this installation, the Museum celebrated the anniversary of the transfer of the collections of the Sana Art Foundation to the Museum. In July 2009, this collection of more than 900 works of art from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Native Americas moved from its home of several years in Escondido to the Museum.

Gallery photograph from Personal Pathways: Southeast African Art from the Sana Foundation Collection at The San Diego Museum of Art

The Museum was the only US institution to show From El Greco to Dalí: The Great Spanish Masters from the Pérez Simón Collection, a spectacular survey of Spanish art from the 16th century to the 1970s featuring 64 works drawn from one of the world’s finest private collections.

Gallery photograph of From El Greco to Dalí: The Great Spanish Masters from the Pérez Simón Collection.

An important oil painting by Anton Raphael Mengs, a portrait of Don Luis de Borbón joined the Museum’s renowned collection of portraiture.

Anton Raphael Mengs (AKA Raphael Mengs). Portrait of Don Luis de Borbón, Infante of Spain (1727–1785), 1769. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase. 2011.133.


Brutal Beauty was a solo exhibition of drawings by local cross-border artist Hugo Crosthwaite. Crosthwaite was recently awarded first prize in a prestigious competition by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Artist Hugo Crosthwaite at work as part of his Brutal Beauty exhibition at the Museum.

Dreams and Diversions: 250 Years of Japanese Woodblock Prints from The San Diego Museum of Art presented a landmark exhibition of one of the most significant parts of the Museum’s collection.

Kikugawa Eizan. The Courtesan Hanazome of the Ogiya reading a letter and grinding ink, ca. 1810–1815. Woodblock on paper. Bequest of Mrs. Cora Timken Burnett. 1957.155.

Featured at top right: Tony Rosenthal. Odyssey III, 1967. Aluminum. Museum purchase with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. 1974.21.