When musicians perform at the Berkeley Art Museum — as they have countless times — they set up in the atrium of its monolithic building, letting their sounds echo off the jutting indoor balconies that constitute the galleries and the towering ceiling of interlocking concrete blocks. Crowds of students and community members line the gallery edges, overlooking the crowd on the ground floor, like birds perched on a city skyline. The building has always played a crucial role in every performance and exhibition that has taken place at the museum, with galleries that flow into each other on a gradual incline, drawing viewers from one sight to the next in a cumulative viewing experience.
The Berkeley Art Museum was founded in 1963, when prolific painter Hans Hofmann donated 45 paintings and $250,000 to the university. A competition to design a building took place, and San Francisco architect Mario Ciampi won with his modernist design — which some say was inspired by Hofmann’s abstract expressionist paintings. The museum opened in 1970, and has since maintained a mission to push the boundaries of museum curation, respond to shifts in contemporary art, and incorporate the openness of Ciampi’s architecture into its programming. “Really, the space is a partner in everything that we do,” said chief curator Lucinda Barnes.
After 45 years, the museum is giving up its beloved building due to concerns that it is seismically unsafe, despite past retrofits. The institution will take a yearlong hiatus, then reopen in a forward-looking new building on the corner of Center and Oxford streets in early 2016. The new building was designed by the acclaimed architectural team Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose accomplishments include the High Line Park in New York. Barnes described it as excitingly dynamic, with galleries that continuously reorient the viewer.
For its last day in its current building, December 21, the museum has planned a full day of free programming that ends in a procession down to the new site. It will begin at 11 a.m. with art-making workshops led by educational artist Veronica Graham, in which participants will make floor plans for fantasy museums and fill them with tiny artworks. The afternoon performances will begin in the atrium with singers from Kitka’s all-women chorus and dancers from Turf Inc. Later, Chris Kallmyer will do a sound piece in which he strikes handmade chimes in a composition that follows the geometric architecture of the building’s ceiling as he moves around the space. Performance artist Dohee Lee will then do a ritual farewell to the building. And finally, Sarah Cahill will perform Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes. A group of fifty, including museum staff, professors, artists, and members of the community, will make up the necessary participation for the piece, in which one hundred metronomes are set off at the same time and gradually fade until there are just a few, and then finally only one left, ticking until it creates its final echo.
11 a.m.–5 p.m. BAMPFA.Berkeley.edu