The Bay Area as Creative Center at BAM


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Marvin from Erica Deeman’s Brown series of photographic portraits of black men.

Photo by Erica Deeman, Courtesy BAM

Bay Area art museums have been on a roll lately, with exhibitions of Edvard Munch, Claude Monet, Walker Evans, Joan Brown, Charles Howard, Robert Rauschenberg, Martin Wong, and Gustav Klimt. Berkeley Art Museum continues the hot streak with an ambitious survey of 200-odd works—with film, performance, poetry, and ephemera as well as traditional paintings, drawings, and prints—from the past three centuries, including works by Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Sargent Johnson, Chiura Obata, Charles Howard, and Rosie Lee Tompkins. Several dozen of the works are new acquisitions made specifically for Way Bay, with sizable representations of emerging women and minority artists. Complementing BAMPFA’s collections are artifacts borrowed from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Besides celebrating the area’s rich legacy of art, the show examines the influence of the place on its widely disparate artists, who range from pre-colonial Ohlone Indians and 19th-century settlers through postwar modernists educated on the GI Bill and today’s postmodernist, global-culture explorers of mixed media and sociopolitical commentary. Historical and documentary films will play, uninterrupted, with recordings of Bay Area artists and performances bringing the locale’s creative past to life and celebrating the continuity of artistic expression. Lawrence Rinder, BAMPFA director and chef curator, who created the show along with film curator Kathy Geritz and engagement associate David Wilson, assert the show’s goal: “. . . not a conventional historical survey but rather an open-ended and provocative attempt to reveal hidden currents and connections among works from disparate times, cultures, and communities.”

Among the works to be shown are: Sara Arledge’s 1940s pioneering glass slide abstract paintings; one of Erica Deeman’s Brown series of photographic portraits of black men, Marvin (2015); Richard Diebenkorn’s Berkeley period (1953-66) painting, Studio Wall (1966); Joanne Leonard’s sensitive photographs of 1950s West Oakland neighborhoods; Gordon Onslow Ford’s Surrealist oil, Painter and the Muse (1943); and Xara Thustra’s monumental 9/11 memorial painting.

Way Bay runs through May 6, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808; BAMPFA.org.

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