California African American Museum Remains Closed After Flood Damage

LOS ANGELES —  The California African American Museum (CAAM), located in Exposition Park, is still reeling from flood damage as a result of Tropical Storm Hilary, which brought record rainfall to Southern California on August 20 and 21. The institution was forced to close its doors to the public that week and has yet to reopen.

Though some of the museum’s galleries and other public areas were affected, the collection storage area was spared, CAAM Executive Director Cameron Shaw told Hyperallergic. “There appears to be no widespread damage to artworks and objects on view, and we are continuing a careful assessment in close contact with lenders and partners,” Shaw said. “We are working to determine a reopening date and will share that information as soon as possible.”

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, “Untitled” (2023), graphite on paper with vintage photograph, 12 x 9 inches (image courtesy the artist)

The museum had just reopened on August 5 after being closed for several months, during which time $5 million in upgrades were completed, including “a new HVAC system, refinished floors, a new roof and weatherproofed glass ceiling panels in the atrium,” as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. It reopened with five new exhibitions: Keeping Time, a short film by Darol Olu Kae focused on experimental jazz group the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra from South Central LA; We Are Not Strangers Here, a historical exhibition on African Americans in rural California; Black California Dreamin’, which looks at the intersection of race, leisure, and public space; A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration; and Speaking to Falling Seeds by Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an installation of large portraits of Black Angelenos wheat-pasted throughout the museum’s atrium.

Currently, Fazlalizadeh’s installation can be glimpsed through the museum’s windows, alongside signs of construction including scaffolding, fans, and plastic sheeting. A sign reading “Closed for storm-related repairs” is painted on the museum’s doors in large yellow letters. Last week, workers from Cal-City Construction, the firm responsible for the recent upgrades and the current repairs, could be seen on the museum’s roof, though none were authorized to speak with Hyperallergic. Cal-City did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment by press time.

The California African American Museum’s facade reads “closed for storm-related repairs.” (photo Matt Stromberg/Hyperallergic)

CAAM was founded in 1977 and moved to its current site in Exposition Park, a 44,000-square-foot building designed by African-American architects Jack Haywood and Vince Proby in 1984. Its permanent collection of 5,000 objects includes modern and contemporary art, 19th-century landscape paintings, film, and historical artifacts, documents, and photographs, with a focus on African-American artists, the history of the African Diaspora, and the American West. In September 2001, the museum closed for 18 months to complete a series of upgrades including the installation of a new HVAC system, hardwood floors, a new roof, and skylights, overseen by Gruen & Associates at a cost of nearly $4 million. Exposition Park is home to other museums including the California Science Center, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, though none of those reported flood damage.

Though some of the museum’s galleries and other public areas were affected, the collection storage area was spared. (photo Matt Stromberg/Hyperallergic)

Tropical Storm Hilary’s heavy rains caused mudslides, dangerous winds, and power outages. Salvation Mountain, a visionary landscape installation composed of large-scale, colorful murals created by Leonard Knight on the Eastern edge of the Salton Sea, was forced to close to the public temporarily until the sculpture dried out, though fortunately no significant damage to the artwork was registered. California has been especially affected by climate change over the past several years, as wildfires and drought become more frequent. The state received an unusually large amount of rain this year, which served to alleviate drought conditions somewhat, though created new problems for areas of South California not equipped to handle flooding.

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