On Sunday, hundreds of people swarmed through every nook and cranny, every cantilevered balcony and ramp, within the concrete hulk of the Berkeley Art Museum at 2626 Bancroft Way. They came to say goodbye to a building that has hosted innumerable highly regarded exhibitions over four decades, as well as art installations, fashionable events, and parties.
Built in 1970, and designed by architect Mario Ciampi during the brief reign of Brutalist architecture, the UC Berkeley-owned museum has as many detractors as fans. In his closing speech, BAM/PFA director Lawrence Rinder expressed both his fondness for the building and the occasional frustration of dealing with its constraints. The building has been deemed seismically unsound, and a brand new museum is being built in its stead. The new BAM/PFA, designed by New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is set to open in January 2016 on the site of a former Cal printing press in downtown Berkeley.
A day’s worth of farewell programming on Sunday for the Ciampi building included a create-your-own-museum art workshop, a dance battle by TURFinc, and “vibrant vocals” from the women’s group Kitka.
Visitors, who had all been given complimentary admission, also took the opportunity to browse the museum’s last shows, including selected work by Hans Hoffmann who was instrumental in founding the museum in 1963 after he donated 45 paintings plus $250,000 to the university.
As darkness fell towards 5 p.m., UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks spoke, as did Rinder. Members of Ciampi’s family were in attendance, as was Peter Selz, the museum’s founding director. Then long-time museum programmer Sarah Cahill organized a group of staffers, performers and supporters to wind up one hundred metronomes to perform György Ligeti’s 1962 composition Poème symphonique.
Shortly afterwards, about 200 supporters marched in procession from the old museum to the construction site for the new structure at Center and Oxford streets.
Some of the most memorable shows put on in the Ciampi-designed museum include: “In a Different Light,” “The Eighties,” “Made in U.S.A: An Americanization in Modern Art,” and “Andre, Buren, Irwin, Nordman: Space As Support.” Solo exhibitions have been held there for, among others, Richard Avedon, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Eva Hesse, Barry McGee, Bruce Nauman, and Sebastião Salgado.
The university has not announced how the Ciampi building will be used in future, but it will likely be tied to academic programs. Upgrading the building is expected to include construction that would significantly change the open gallery space that the institution requires for its exhibitions, hence the decision to build a new museum. Film programming at the current PFA Theater location at 2575 Bancroft Way will continue as usual through summer 2015.
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