Berkeley Art Museum’s iconic home closes after 44 years

Hundreds of people came to the Berkeley Art Museum on its final day on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. Photo: Tracey Taylor

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.

Berkeley Art Museum closing in Berkeley, California
Visitors lined the balconies to listen to performances in the building’s central atrium on the museum’s final day. Photo: David Yee

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.

bam2. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Visitors take in the Hans Hoffman show. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Art pieces made by visitors to BAM:PFA on its last day at its Bancroft Way location. Photo- Tracey Taylor
Art pieces made by visitors and set on mini-shelves at BAM/PFA on its last day at its Bancroft Way location. Photo: Tracey Taylor
BAM last day. Photo: Claudia Smukler
Paula Anglim painted by Travis Collinson, a piece that took pride of place in the old BAM/PFA. Photo: Claudia Smukler
BAM:PFA last day. Photo  Lee Fenyves
A young visitor on the last day of the Bancroft Way Berkeley Art Museum. Photo Lee Fenyves
John Zurier show on view on the last day of programming at BAM/PFA’s Bancroft Way site. Photo: Claudia Smukler
bam3. Photo: tracey Taylor
Packing up to go at BAM/PFA. Photo: Tracey Taylor
bam4. Photo: Ted Friedman
A procession sets out from BAM/PFA on its last day. Photo: Ted Friedman
BAM procession Photo Ted Friedman
The BAM/PFA procession with the UC Berkeley Campanile in the background. Photo: Ted Friedman

Gallery: Fans celebrate Berkeley Art Museum milestone (07.21.14)
Salvaged trees to be used in Berkeley’s new art museum (05.22.14)
On the cusp: Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (05.01.13)
Before new Berkeley art museum can rise, a demolition (04.08.13)
Art museum chief: New space good for Town & Gown (02.13.13)
Work begins on new Berkeley Art Museum, top open in 2016 (02.12.13)
Palpable possibilities: Berkeley Art Museum’s home awaits (01.25.12)
New Berkeley Art Museum mixes old with eye-catching new (09.16.11)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: