James Broughton: still from The Bed, 1968; 19 mins
James Broughton: still from The Bed, 1968; 19 mins. Image: Courtesy BAMPFA

For its new show, ‘Way Bay,’ curators of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) explored its storage facilities and put together the first half of a fascinating exposition of diverse works of Bay Area art, film and poetry spanning 200 years of creativity.

Highlights are by artists and filmmakers such as Bruce Baillie, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Enrique Chagoya, Richard Diebenkorn, Joanne Leonard, Chiura Obata, Helen Clark Oldfield, Joe Overstreet, Alice Anne Parker Severson and Carlos Villa. Also displayed are newly acquired pieces — including 40 by women artists and artist of color — plus a few works on loan from the Bancroft Library and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. The second half of the exhibit will be shown beginning June 2018.

Presented in BAMPFA’s main white-walled galleries, the more than 200 art works have been organized not chronologically or geographically, but in the style of Philadelphia’s Barnes Collection, such that art is located to best relate to other pieces, irrespective of medium, style, school, or era. Each grouping is linked together by an excerpt of poetry.

Emma Michalitschke: Yosemite Landscape, 1913; oil on canvas; 50 x 44 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; Gift of Emma Michalitschke.
Emma Michalitschke: Yosemite Landscape, 1913; oil on canvas; 50 x 44 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; Gift of Emma Michalitschke

The arrangement works extremely well and allows the viewer to wander effortlessly from treasure to treasure. No labels are adjacent to the artworks, but all the art is numbered and there are descriptive gallery guides available for those, like me, who need to know “who, what, when, where, how.”

So for example, Panther Meadows, Mt. Shasta (2016) by Yuh-Shioh Wong [numbered 171], an almost fauvist, pastel-colored acrylic on canvas, is juxtaposed with Emma Michalitschke’s representation oil, Yosemite Landscape (1913) [numbered 167].

Richard Diebenkorn’s Studio Wall (1963) [numbered 45], which alone is worth the price of admission, is near James Broughton’s film (now digitized), The Bed (1968) [numbered 48], in which a naked group, including Imogen Cunningham, Alan Watts and Anna Halprin’s dancers, frolic around a bed. The two are linked under the poetic phrase seconds before sleep seem all tangled up by Steffi Drewes.

One of Way Bay’s singular benefits is that it encompasses art that is rarely available, or exhibited for the first time. Of the new works by women of color, Joanne Leonard’s untitled photograph (1977) [numbered 59], of an Oakland living room scene, is of particular note. Imogen Cunningham’s photograph, The Coffee Gallery (1960) [numbered 60] is its apt companion.

The majority of BAMPFA’s collection has been donated, rather than acquired. Gifts are welcome, so long as BAMPFA’s collection committee has approved them. As with most museums, only a small percentage of the collection may be shown at any one time. So exhibitions like Way Bay are a unique treat. What makes this exhibit outstanding is to see the variety and diversity of talented artists who have chosen to live, work and/or pay homage to the San Francisco Bay Area.

We are indeed fortunate to have a resource like BAMPFA.

Way Bay is an inspired exhibit. It’s on view until June 3, at BAMPFA, 2120 Oxford Street in Berkeley. For further information, visit BAMPFA online.

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Emily S. Mendel

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...