Is a portrait of a past US president fine art or merely kitschy memorabilia? Blackhawk Museum asks the question in The Fine Art of Being President, an exhibition beginning, appropriately, on Thursday — Inauguration Day. With more than a hundred works devoted to the subject of the first men and their immediate families, viewers will have plenty of material to decide the answer for themselves. Paintings, sculptures, busts, and related artifacts dating back to the 1700s round out the collection. Some resemble classic oil paintings from the dead rooms at most fine museums, while other newer pieces, such as the ominous rendering of Hillary Rodham Clinton, evoke a more modern tone. Red or blue, folks will surely interpret the artwork differently. Take the floating-head portrait of Ronald Reagan, for instance. One person may see a leader who valiantly brought an end to the Cold War, while another may see a greedy man who squeezed the blood from our country’s social programs, leaving countless mentally ill people to wander the streets — only later to fall ill himself in an ironic twist of fate. It’s totally American to reserve the right to your opinion. And whether you observe these purely subjective works with reverie or repulsion, you will be sure to feel just a little awe for the democratic process and the brave men and heroic women who once attempted to preserve a life of liberty and happiness for our future.
Or not. If you don’t feel your patriotic heart chain yanked just a little, then make a detour and stroll over to one of Blackhawk’s two automobile galleries and their historically significant automobiles, or “rolling sculptures” as they call them. Either way, you’re sure to get your $8 worth ($5 for students and seniors, free for kids under six). Blackhawk Museum is located at 3700 Black Hawk Plaza Circle in Danville. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call for directions, 925-736-2280, or visit BlackhawkMuseum.org — Justine Nicole
Up ‘Gainst the Wall
A little boy grabs a quick bite underneath the watchful eyes of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver posters in a photo called Black Panther Free Breakfast Program, 1965. That’s one of the many B&W images in the Serving the People — Body and Soul: Black Panther Party Photographs exhibition, which opens Tuesday for a run through March 19 in the catalogue lobby of the central Berkeley Public Library (2090 Kittredge St. at Shattuck Ave., 510-981-6100). The show aims to explain the lasting cultural legacy the Panther years (1966-1982) left on the East Bay, and the political awareness the Panthers brought to the black community. To learn more, visit BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org or call 510-981-6100. — Kelly Vance
The Lower Roches
Though 2004’s Why the Long Face found Suzzy and Maggie Roche without middle sister Terre — the Roche with the highest register — they are by no means taking the low roads these days. The album features, alongside new originals, words by Brian Wilson (“A Day in the Life of a Tree” from the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up), writer and midwife of the Harlem Renaissance Jessie Fauset, and several other unusual sources, set to the Roches’ uniquely intricate folk arrangements. Suzzy and Maggie perform at the Freight & Salvage (1111 Addison St., Berkeley) Thursday night, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $17.50 in advance, $18.50 at the door. TheFreight.org, 510-548-1761. — Stefanie Kalem
Monday at sunset is the beginning of the Jewish holiday Tu B’shvat, considered the New Year’s Eve of trees. The holiday isn’t in the Torah and it’s barely mentioned in the Mishnah, so it’s definitely one of those build-your-own-tradition holidays. Case in point: The Trees of Hope Committee is throwing a Tu B’Shvat Seder Sunday evening (5:30 p.m.) at the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St., to benefit Rabbis for Human Rights. Bring a vegetarian potluck dish and fork over $5 to raise funds to replant olive trees uprooted by the Israeli military and settlers, and other activities promoting peace in the Middle East. RSVP at 415-789-7685. — Stefanie Kalem