New: Get Ready for BAMPFA: UC's New Art Museum and Film Archive Set to Open in January

Gar Smith
Monday January 18, 2016 - 01:26:00 PM

The Berkeley Historical Society is currently offering an exhibit entitled "Art Capital of the West: Real and Imagined Art Museums and Galleries in Berkeley" (running through April 2, 2016). This made the BHS the perfect spot to host a presentation by Lawrence Rinder, the incoming director of the spanking-new, soon-to-open Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Rinder recently appeared at the BHS's exhibition room in the Veterans Building (1931 Center Street) to offer an insider's peek into the architecture and mission of the stunning new downtown venue. 


As we discovered in the course of his introduction, Rinder boasts quite a resume. In addition to serving as curator for 20th Century Art at BAMPFA, Rinder was the founding director of SF's Watts Institute for Contemporary Arts and dean of the California College of the Arts. Rinder is also a poet, a playwright ("The Wishing Well"), the author of a novel (Revenge of the Decorated Pigs) and co-author of a text-and-photos novella (Tuleyome). 

While Rinder grew up on the East Coast, his family has Bay Area roots. (His grandfather,Ruben Rinder, was cantor at San Francisco's Temple Emanuel.) 

Walking to the BHS' lectern to the applause of a packed house, Rinder began his illustrated slideshow presentation with a photograph of an ornate structure that once graced the UC campus. Erected in 1881, the building (long demolished) is believed to have been the first art museum built on the West Coast. According to Rinder, the building may also have been "the first university art museum in the country." Harvard University did not get around to building its Fogg Museum until 1895. 

Rinder had assembled an eclectic assortment of images for the evening's presentation, ranging from architectural shots to photos of art and costumes in BAMPFA's extensive collections. One of the more memorable images was a photograph of legendary screen vamp Greta Garbo, posing in a long, elegant dress. It was followed by a slide showing the back of the photograph. It was signed by Garbo and it read: "Dear Willy, Love and French kisses, Greta." 

"Was that 'Willie' as in William Hearst?" the Planet inquired. 

"Umm. Quite possibly," Render replied with a mischievous grin. After all, the Hearst family was one of the university's major financial benefactors and also donated a vast trove of rare artwork to the museum. 

Rinder next took the audience inside the shambles of the abandoned UC Press Building for a look at what the project's architects (Diller Scofidio + Renfro) had to work with. After the building's offices had been emptied and printing presses removed, the structure became a haunt for squatters and graffiti artists. 

Some of the graffiti was quite outstanding, Rinder confessed. He showed some examples, including a major "tag" that covered the walls of the signature spiral staircase in the building's lobby. (The architects preserved the famous staircase in the new design.) 

Rinder surprised the viewers with the revelation that this particular patch of unsanctioned wall-art turned out to have been the work of the some members of the Berkeley Police Department. One large section of the "cop tag" depicted a well-executed image of the Campanile bell tower. The artful cops also covered a large part of the staircase wall with huge letters spelling out the phrase, "Urban Shield" (the name of a controversial joint military-police martial law exercise). 

The cost for the new building was only $112 million owing, in large part, to the decision to retain the six-story administration building along with the sprawling space to the west that once housed the facility's massive printing presses. The only trade-off, Rinder noted, was the increased costs of securing the temperature and humidity requirements essential for the museum. 

The new facility will provide five times more space for displays and collections. There will be 10,000 ft.² for the display of artwork and another 10,000 ft.² will be devoted to the film arts. 

By storing much of its collection (including the largest pieces) in UCB's storage site in Richmond, the downtown facility will have abundant space to display its permanent and moving exhibitions. There will be matinees and evening events with plans to screen around 450 films per year. While the majority of the films will be from the PFA collection, Rinder noted that additional works of classic and rare cinema will be culled from the Archive Network, a coalition of film archives located at universities in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. 

In addition to the large screening rooms, the new BAMPFA site will also provide small two-person viewing booths where visitors can watch digitally screened versions of film classics. 

And, in what is certain to become one of the most-talked-about innovations, the BAMPFA building has been designed to screen films on the outside wall overlooking a small parklet on BAMPFA's north side. (Rinder hopes it may be possible to develop some of the University Hall property across Addison street to expand the viewing space for future al fresco cinema lovers.) 


Rinder justly boasted that the building is LEED Silver-rated—with the possibility that it maybe elevated to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's Gold status—but he admitted it was still shy of the David Brower Center's top-of-the-line Platinum rating. 

Rinder promised that the new museum will continue to exhibit the works of the beloved painter, Hans Hoffman. In fact, a special Hoffman exhibition is being planned for the first year of operation. 

And what's to become of the old BAMPFA building on Bancroft Way? The old site was closed because of seismic concerns and the Americans for Disabilities Act had given the building demerits for ramps that were too steep for ADA compliance. Rinder explained how the massive Mario Ciampi-designed structure may be updated with sturdier, more secure walls to improve its ability to survive an earthquake. According to UC administrators, these seismic upgrades would still leave the building unsuitable "for anything but classrooms." (This judgment may leave future students feeling a bit expendable.) 

BAMPFA's opening gala will be held on January 28. Don't fret about tickets: the event was sold out long before it was announced publicly. Following the gala premiere, there will be a members' preview, followed by a student preview. The museum/theater complex will open to the general public on January 31 and the historic opening day event will be free. 

The building will be open from 11 to 9 Wednesdays through Sundays with new films shown every day. Regular admission will be $12, with discounts for seniors. Visitors younger than 18 years will be admitted without charge. If accompanied by an older person, that individual will also be granted a free pass.