Monday, February 1, 2016

Berkeley has its art museum back again: BAMPFA opens

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) has opened in its new building, throwing a staged set of parties for donors, members, and the community at large. I visited for the first time on Saturday. Regular hours commence on Wednesday Feb 3rd -- regular hours are Wed-Sun 11am to 9 pm.

The expansive main gallery and the two film theaters promise a wealth of future visits that might even make up for the disappointment at losing the brutalist and endlessly compelling Mario Ciampi sprawl of BAMPFA's first home, of some 35 years.

Some bonus news: Babette, the café that was itself a destination at the old museum, has made the trek downtown with BAMPFA. It opens for business on Wednesday. At right, a view from the café balcony down into the museum's main gallery space.

Here's an excerpt of what SF Chronicle architecture critic has to say last week about the building in New home elevates BAMPFA status:
The shell of metallic scales is supple and soft, if not as crisply tailored as when first conceived. In morning sun the creased folds glisten; after dark, the trees along Oxford Street cast delicate shadows on the long panels. Rather than the dour tone of the copper-clad De Young Museum in San Francisco (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the streamlined tub has a cordial air.

As for the cantilever above Center Street, the red glow from the interior walls that was played up in renderings is barely discernible. Still, the outward gesture serves as a symbolic marquee above the lone public entry, while the corridor within the tail offers views into the galleries and gathering spaces below.

What you see is an interlocked, easily navigated realm far different from the choreographed ascension that offered one path through the 1970 museum. The corridor has two large entrances into the main gallery, where printing presses once churned beneath a saw-toothed roof that allows light in from the north. But first there’s a casual space dubbed the forum that cascades down, long wood stairs doubling as benches designed with an eye to events but also as a path leading to subterranean galleries.

At the end of the corridor, you face the belly of the beast — the rounded underside of the 232-seat main theater, the silvery metal skin continued inside as smooth gray stucco panels. The void between old and new serves as the theater atrium and is accented by a tall pointed glass wall facing the campus; there’s also glass that allows you to look down at the film archive’s library.

These visual connections are voyeuristic in the best sense. They’re also a nod to the communal air of the original museum, the way that the interior let you be part of something larger, an ever-changing show.
Here are three stunning pieces from the museum's inaugural show, "Architecture of Life," curated by museum director Larry Rinder:

Portrait of My Father, Stephan Kaltenbach

4 Brushstrokes over Figure, Hyun-Sook Song

Solitary, semi-social mapping of ESO-510 613 connected with intergalactic dusty by one Nephila clavipes -- one week -- and three Cyrtophora citricola -- three weeks, Tomás Saraceno

The image of one of four collaborations between Tomás Saraceno and some spiders doesn't come close to doing his haunting installation justice. Any one of the three pieces pictured is worth a visit to downtown Berkeley.

BAMPFA is one short block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Don't just come for the museum: take a walk on the campus, have dinner, taken in a play or a musical performance, and don't forget to circumnavigate the building in the evening to admire the shadow play on BAMPFA's metallic skin.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The Berkeley Art Museum is Dead - Long Live the Berkeley Art Museum!
Barry McGee mid-career survey at UC Berkeley art museum
Looking East at the SF Asian Art Museum: cultural appropriation or radical empathy?
Meet the Fishers


  1. Great review and so glad you could join me on their inaugural opening day...can't wait to see a feature film in the PFA theaters. Great to have a state-of-the-art venue!

  2. Thanks, Jonathan, for your company and for inviting us along to the Members opening on Saturday. It is indeed terrific to have BAMPFA back again...