New BAMPFA draws thousands on opening day

The brand new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) opened the doors to its new home in the downtown Berkeley arts district on Sunday, welcoming nearly 12,500 visitors eager to explore the museum in its spectacular, refreshed 1939 building and its massive inaugural exhibition, Architecture of Life.

Visitors take a close look at Mission School artist Chris Johanson's 2003 piece, Cityscape with House and Energy.

Visitors take a close look at Mission School artist Chris Johanson’s 2003 piece, Cityscape with House and Energy. (UC Berkeley photos by Kathleen Maclay)

BAMPFA Director Lawrence Rinder called the event “an incredible milestone” in the history of the University of California, Berkeley, and of the city of Berkeley.

“There isn’t a better location for a museum of art and film,” said Rinder at a ceremony just before the official opening of the site at 2155 Center St., a block from the downtown Berkeley BART station and across the street from a main campus entry and exit.

On the site had been a printing plant built in 1939 and sporting a striking, saw-toothed rooftop that has been saved by the New York-based international design firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and local executive architect EHDD. It is a key element of the gleaming new 83,000-square-foot home for BAMPFA’s collections — more than 19,000 works of art and 17,500 films and videos. came about almost two decades after a determination by engineers that BAMPFA’s former home on Bancroft Way did not meet adequate seismic standards. An external seismic bracing of the building completed in 2001 enabled BAMPFA to remain open temporarily through its campaign for a new facility.

“All the details of this building were done with incredible care,” Rinder said.

A crowd spanning the ages lined up along Center Street for Sunday's public opening of the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive. (Photos by UC Berkeley Media Relations.)

A crowd spanning the ages lined up along Center Street for Sunday’s public opening of the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive.

Four days of festivities culminated in Sunday’s public opening, which featured glowing remarks by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, BAMPFA board president Noel Nellis, DS+R’s Chief Partner-in-Charge of the project Charles Renfro, and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. The chancellor noted the museum’s leading role in a “new area for the arts in Berkeley” that draws visitors from the campus, community and around the world. Berkeley students are fortunate to attend a public university, said Dirks, where BAMPFA is part of “the very DNA of what we are.”

The museum welcomed a special guest on Jan. 26, when National Endowment for the Humanities chair William Adams visited for a preview. BAMPFA’s most recent NEH grant came in 2013, with an allotment for $500,000 to enhance the institution’s new study centers and to better serve its audiences.

Babette's cafe upstairs at the new museum offers a cozy spot for rest and refreshment.

Babette’s cafe upstairs at the new museum offers a cozy spot for rest and refreshment.

Architect Charles Renfro joked that he wasn’t sure if everyone should be celebrating the artistry of the new building or the thousands of men, women and children lined up outside on the sidewalk. They were waiting for a glimpse of the new galleries, film screening theater, the 60-by-20-foot Art Wall mural, amphitheater seating made by a Zen priest/master woodworker (much of which was made from trees milled from several Canary Pines that were removed from the site during construction), its new bookstore, café and entertainment. During the 11 a.m.-11 p.m. open house, visitors were treated to music by several local DJs as well as performances by local dance troupes.

Marian Murray of Berkeley said she brought 3-year-old Caro Estrada to explore the children’s art activities incorporated into the day’s programming. Caro was busy putting pen to paper at a kids’ table laden with art supplies.

Visitors to the Architecture of Life use magnifying glasses to examine the structure of lace.

Visitors to the Architecture of Life use magnifying glasses to examine the structure of lace.

“We wanted to see how the museum looked, and see all the activities they were going to have for the kids – like this one,” said Murray, as Caro paused briefly for a photo.

Palo Alto architect Alex Lew said he was motivated by professional curiosity to come across the bay after long following the effort to build a new museum as the plan morphed from designs by world-acclaimed architect Toyo Ito to the DSR team.

“I loved the old building (a Brutalist space designed by Mario Ciampi),” said Lew. He found the DSR design to be a bit less splashy than Ito’s but still impressive, significant and “quite appropriate for a university art gallery.”

Visitors encounter the huge Art Wall mural as soon as they step inside the new BAMPFA.

The huge Art Wall mural confronts visitors as soon as they step inside the new BAMPFA.

Berkeley alumni Jennifer Wong and David Belford of Oakland (with degrees in environmental economics and policy, and cognitive science, respectively) said they recently attended the opening of the new Broad museum in Los Angeles (also designed by DS+R) and are thrilled that Californians have two new museums opening in quick succession.

Both said they were moved by the powerful exhibit of artist Fernando Botero’s art on campus in 2009, and similarly by the new BAMPFA’s Architecture of Life, particularly three large pieces by a Korean artist reflecting calligraphy.

Christopher Wong, a member of Berkeley’s integrative biology staff who works at the nearby Valley Life Sciences building, said that after months of watching the museum take shape at the intersection of Center and Oxford streets, he just had to come inside to find he liked what he saw.

RELATED INFORMATION 

  • BAMPFA will be open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, beginning Wednesday, Feb. 3. It is free to UC Berkeley faculty, staff, students and retirees, as well as to BAMPFA members.
  • A previous news release detailed the history of BAMPFA, its new operations and its symbiotic relationship with a wide range of other campus programs.
  • A video of Sunday’s public opening is available at https://youtu.be/Oy8vc9FGbVE.