Feb 12 2016

Photo Blog: Re-opening of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

by Hanae Ko

QIU ZHIJIE‘s ink mural The World Garden (2016), the first of Berkeley Art Museum’s “Art Wall” series, which commissions artists to create a work for the venue’s public lounge area. All photographs by Hanae Ko for ArtAsiaPacific.

On the last day of January, the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) opened its sleek, new, 7,600-square-meter space in the eponymous city of California, known for being the home of University of California, Berkeley. Designed by New York-based studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who were also the architects behind the High Line park in Manhattan, the museum kicked off its re-opening with “Architecure of Life,” an exhibition that explores the theme of architecture—in the physical, structural, mental and spiritual sense of the word—through a variety of artworks on loan and from their permanent collection, including traditional craft, religious objects, scientific drawings, charts, videos, paintings and sculptures, among others.

Originally founded in 1963, the former building of the Berkeley Art Museum was built in 1970 with designs by Mario Ciampi. Affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, the museum also houses the Pacific Film Archive, which specializes in archiving and screening classic and modern foreign films. Initially, BAMPFA had announced plans for a redesign of their structure in 2008—to be helmed by the Japanese architect Toyo Ito—but the project was soon cancelled due to the economic crisis of that time and resultant troubles in raising necessary funds. Instead, the decision was later made to retrofit and expand a former University of California Press printing plant, housed in a 1939 Art Deco building in downtown Berkeley.  

Spread across the seven galleries of BAMPFA’s new building, “Architecture of Life” indeed approaches the theme of “architecture” in an amibitiously liberal (or some might say slighty random) manner. The eclectic mix of displayed artworks and artifacts are at times perplexing in their seeming lack of association with one another (or the curatorial theme), with a selection that comprises, but is not limited to: a 140-cm-tall gilt bronze Buddha from 14th-century Tibet; a Georgia O’Keefe painting; a collection of 16th-century Italian lace; modern wooden bowls; and Argentian artist Tomás Saraceno’s spider-web installations. Nonetheless, “Architecture of Life” is not an unpleasantly overwhelming experience; it provides enough space—both physically and mentally—for visitors to individually consider the connections behind the displayed objects and the conceptual idea of “architecture.”

However, what makes the exhibition a worthwhile visit is unequivocally the handsome new museum it is housed in, which made a rejuvenating transformation from its former incarnation as a 1970s-era Brutalist building (closed down in 2014 due to seismic safety concerns) to a futuristic, steel structure. The gallery spaces of the multilevel museum consists of those that are impressively high-ceilinged and spacious, as well as others that are more intimate and fit for contemplative viewing. In addition, attached to it is a bright, steel tube-like building that houses a theater, where films from its archive of over 300,000 items will be screened regularly. Whether it is for their collection of art or films, visitors to BAMPFA can expect to have a fruitful experience at the reinvorated institution. 

ArtAsiaPacific visited the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive on the day of their public re-opening. Below is a slideshow of photos from the event. 

AKIHISA HIRATA, Study model for “Home-for-All” in Rikuzentakata, 2012, wood styrene board and plastic. All photos by Hanae Ko for ArtAsiaPacific.
AKIHISA HIRATA, Study model for “Home-for-All” in Rikuzentakata, 2012, wood styrene board and plastic. All photos by Hanae Ko for ArtAsiaPacific.

“Architecture of Life” is on view at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley, California, until May 29, 2016.

Hanae Ko is reviews and web editor at ArtAsiaPacific.