Six steel columns in the lobby and atrium and cross-braced skylights look more like a new installation piece at the Berkeley Art Museum than the result of the initial phase of the museum’s ongoing retrofit project.
The museum celebrated its reopening to the public by opening four new exhibitions in one week.
The first of the fall shows features a 10-piece exhibition by sculptor Martin Puryear who was recently profiled in Time Magazine’s series, “America’s Best.” In addition to four wire-mesh and tar pieces there are a selection of sculptures that incorporate weaving, wrapping, tying and laminating wood into abstract shapes that are elegant, dramatic and thought provoking.
One of the most striking pieces, “Ladder for Booker T. Washington” made from two ash trees, climbs skyward 36 feet, with a width of two feet at the base, narrowing to two inches at the top.
Sharing the inauguration of the fall season is the first retrospective exhibition by conceptual artist and Berkeley alumna Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982). In the show, “The Dream of the Audience,” themes of language, memory and cultural heritage are explored.
Primarily a performance artist, Cha’s body of work includes film, video, ‘mail art’ and books. The viewer is invited to page through her books online at a computer placed in a corner of one of the two galleries displaying her works.
“Exilee,” Cha’s 1980 installation described as a “poetic fusion of film and video evoking memory and language” will be shown monthly at the Pacific Film Archive Theater in conjunction with the exhibit.
The third and fourth exhibits are part of the museum’s program for new and experimental art. Ceal Floyer’s MATRIX 192 / 37’4” and Jessica Bronson’s MATRIX 194 / “heaps, layers and curls,” are site-specific works created for the fall reopening.
Bronson’s video installation was commissioned for the MATRIX program. Her three-screened work projects the image of digitally altered clouds backed with a sound track. The large screens, set at angles to each other, create an environmental experience for the viewer who is surrounded and dwarfed by the shapes and images of the clouds on the textured screens.
Ceal Foyer’s installation, MATRIX 192 / 37’4” is her first solo museum exhibit in North America. According to the museum her work has been described as “good old-fashioned Conceptual Art with a late-90’s attitude.”
In addition to these four exhibits, three smaller shows round out the initial fall premiere: “Hans Hofmann - Real/Life,” “Figure Painting in the Qing Dynasty” and “Fast Forward - Our Growing Collection.”
Many of the exhibits have speakers’ series, featuring talks with the artists and the curator of the exhibit. Also, patrons may request a special appointment to study the works of an individual artist.
By the end of the year the retrofitting will be complete and the museum will have added two more exhibits and opened the entire building to the public, including the garden café. Outdoors, the steel braces that are being planted in the garden area and fixed to the exterior of the building will be integrated into the environment.
Working closely with the structural engineers on the project, deputy director of publicity and marketing for the museum, Dr. Rod Macneil, said they were very accommodating to the daily operations of the museum. As an educational facility, maximum access to the collection of over 13,000 objects during the renovation was a major consideration. To keep the works onsite, Gallery 6 was converted to a storage area relieving concerns about security, climate and dust control.
The retrofit project is scheduled for completion by January 2002 when the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive plan to host a grand reopening celebration.