BAMPFA Reopens With a Show of Wonders

by Sura Wood

BAMPFA’s accessible new location, across the street of UC Berkeley’s main gate, has spacious, flexible galleries and state-of-the-art screening rooms.

The three-year wait is finally over. The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) complex, forced to relocate after its concrete, Mario Ciampi-designed building on Bancroft Street was deemed seismically unsafe, reopens on January 31 in a fully renovated red, white and stainless steel Art Deco facility.

At 83,000 square feet, the new tri-level building is roughly equivalent in size to that of the previous site. Located across from the main entrance to the U.C. Berkeley campus, just a block from the downtown Berkeley BART station, it has spacious, flexible galleries, windows with soaring views and a pair of state-of-the-art screening rooms (one seats 232, the other 33), in addition to a large, outdoor LED monitor for free public screenings of digital media projects.

“Our location makes our programs infinitely more accessible,” says BAMPFA director Lawrence Rinder. “One of the design goals we’ve achieved is a dramatically increased transparency that welcomes passersby. You can see the art from the street, and people who work here can connect to the city.” A cantilever whose appearance recalls an old-fashioned movie marquee, an especially relevant feature for a museum/film archive that has a single entry for both gallery visitors and film patrons, demarcates the main entrance. “It should fix in people’s minds that we are indeed a single institution of art and film,” states Rinder.

BAMPFA’s new home is a 1939 UC Berkeley printing plant “repurposed” and designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects, whose other projects include three in Manhattan: High Line park, the redevelopment of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art expansion. “The architects did a wonderful job of incorporating a curvilinear machine aesthetic …and extending the streamlined moderne, late-Deco style into the 21st century,” Rinder says. Most importantly, the beautifully lit, well-proportioned galleries are ideal settings for works of art, elegant yet neutral enough not to upstage the objects that fill almost the entire museum for the inaugural exhibition, “Architecture of Life.” The show, curated by Rinder, features 250 works that relate in some way to the role of design and architecture in society.

“[The exhibition] is a poetic excursion that explores architecture as a metaphor,” Rinder explains. “I became intrigued with the way architecture has the dramatic and radical capacity to embody ideas and change the world. It’s an incredibly powerful form that not only determines where we fit and how we move through space but connects with us on cognitive, intellectual, psychological and even spiritual levels.” Accordingly, the show is an eclectic mix of artworks that date from the second century to the present, drawing from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. Among the exhibition’s highlights: short films by Kenneth Anger and Brent Green; “Wall with Green Door,” a Southwestern landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe; sculptures by Ruth Asawa and Louise Bourgeois; “Cityscape,” a lively grid-patterned acrylic-on-wood by Chris Johanson; Gustave Caillebotte’s 1876 Impressionist masterpiece, “Le Ponte de l’Europe ”; architectural models and drawings by Mies van der Rohe and Buckminster Fuller; ceramics by George Ohr; bold geometric quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; Tibetan mandalas; Mbuti bark cloth paintings; and even some musical scores. In addition to the main exhibition, a specially commissioned, monumental “art wall” mural, done in an ink brush technique by Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie, is on view.

With two theaters, film programming will increase from 40 to 52 weeks a year, beginning with “Cinema Mon Amour,” a year-long series that brings together renowned filmmakers, artists and local luminaries. It launches this month with an opening week of special presentations by pivotal figures from the archive’s history. On February 3, Barbro Osher, whose name graces the larger theater, introduces Ingmar Bergman’s existential drama “The Seventh Seal,” in which a 14th-century Swedish knight (Max von Sydow), back from the Crusades, is challenged to a game of chess by Death. (Woody Allen cites the film as a formative influence.) Four major director retrospectives are scheduled for 2016 as well as a weekend (Feb. 12-14) devoted to Guy Maddin, the Canadian director known for his wildly imaginative evocations of stylized melodrama, German Expressionism, Soviet modernism, silent cinema and deep dives into his own twisted psyche. Maddin will be on hand to present films that influenced his work, including “Street of Crocodiles,” the Quay Brothers’ stop-motion short about a puppet that makes a break for freedom in a desolate world, and “Dishonored,” Josef von Sternberg’s oddball spy comedy starring Marlene Dietrich. Maddin also discusses several of his own creations, such as his latest opus, “The Forbidden Room,” which begins in a doomed submarine, and cobbles together whimsical digital recreations of lost rarities by D.W. Griffith and Jean Vigo that are specially treated to look like degenerated celluloid.

In the coming months, watch for “Committed Cinema,” featuring a trio of documentaries from San Francisco native Charles Ferguson, including the tough-minded Oscar-winner “Inside Job,” a lucid, insightful film about the 2008 economic collapse; “Love Exists,” a survey of movies by French post-New Wave director Maurice Pialat; and a series on classic Japanese cinema.

“I tried to make sure there would be at least one thing that would strike a chord with anyone who could possibly come to the museum,” reflects Rinder. “It’s a show of wonders.”

Berkeley Art Museum and
Pacific Film Archive

Opening January 31

“Architecture of Life,” through May 29

2155 Center St., Berkeley