“At the Edge: Recent Acquisitions”
Perception can often lead to deception, but in “At the Edge: Recent Acquisitions,” art’s impression leaves the viewer impressed. The Berkeley Art Museum’s exhibition presents new works, some by local artists and others not, with a title well-suited to the plays on perception in the varied pieces.
Exploring “At the Edge” is by no means a dizzying experience — such is the skill of BAM Director Lawrence Rinder, who organized the show. Rather, it’s a journey into diverse, rich art with a bold purpose, or at the very least a bold result. It is visual art that refuses to be pinned down to one single, straightforward interpretation.
Photorealism gets bent in “Edge.” Artist Ed Loftus’ contribution is a small graphite drawing of such detail that one could dismiss it as just another photo of a brick wall. Elizabeth Sunday’s “Anima #9” is many times larger in scale — her piece is an ethereal rendering of the female archetype described by Carl Jung. It exists in multiple gauzy realms. Part photograph, part diaphanous aura, it is the imprint of a phantom. It hints at the existence of the Anima in humanity — an implication which holds up a mirror to the viewer himself.
From Clare Rojas’ abstract, architectural 2D illusion to Carrie Mae Weems’ “Untitled, from Africa,” the show presents art that transcends lazy interpretation. Weems, an UC Berkeley alumna and ethnographer, photographed an African village devoid of its inhabitants. The village buildings evoke humanity just the same, as if the ghosts of the villagers permeated the architecture itself — the grayscale walls are parched human skin while the dimpled niches above doors are reminiscent of navels for navel-gazing. These self-absorbed buildings absorb the viewer.
“At the Edge” captures perception at the periphery of society and life, juxtaposing train transients with divested poets, purposefully underexposed photographs with gaudy, imagined film stills and paintings made entirely in glitter. Pieces are rarely what they appear at first sight — the viewer stands on a precipice with the art, their perspective widened to suit the precarious reality of life “At the Edge.”
— Natalie Reyes
“Lutz Bacher / MATRIX 242″
The Vietnam War, a major pinnacle of American history, has been brought to life at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). Lutz Bacher, a Berkeley-based artist and repudiated leader of contemporary art, presents a simple yet powerful exhibit featuring a series of photographs taken during the Vietnam War. This photo collection, mailed from Vietnam to Oakland in 1969, was discovered many years later in a Berkeley salvage store.
The featured exhibition, Bien Hoa (2006-07), consists of 10 simple photographs. The color images are enlarged reproductions of the faded black-and-whites and are presented along with handwritten notes inscribed on the backs of the original prints. The remarks were written by an African-American soldier stationed at Vietnam’s Bien Hoa Air Force Base in 1969, known only as Walter. He is both the author and primary subject of these photographs.
The simplistic nature of the exhibit’s display is a stark contrast to the complexity of the photographs themselves, as they are mounted around the perimeter of an otherwise bare, white-walled room. Through the photos and writings, the viewer achieves an illuminating glimpse into Walter’s life as a Vietnam soldier. The artwork is a two-sided canvas — a visual reflection on the front and a written reflection of Walter’s personal emotions on the back. Walter explicitly expresses his longing for family as well as his animosity towards the war. The absence of annotations on some of the photographs lends an air of mystery to the display and leaves the viewer questioning why no commentary was made. Furthermore, Walter’s fate is not made clear to the viewer, leaving one to wonder if he ultimately returned home safely.
It is fascinating how an observer can gain insight into this man’s life through a simple series of 10 photographs which truly bring history to life. Experiencing this exhibit allows us to empathize with this mysterious American soldier trapped amid the chaos and turmoil of the tragic Vietnam War. These photographs and their annotations provide a fascinating collection of snapshots of the life and times of this era. Seeing this major period in American history through the eyes of Walter truly provides a newfound perspective, as well as a profound sense of enlightenment.
— Nick Cotter
“D-L Alvarez / MATRIX 243″
D-L Alvarez’s first solo exhibition, which recently opened at the Berkeley Art Museum, can be seen as a lesson in macabre. Alvarez’s show asks questions about the inter-connectedness of entertainment and terror. With only three pieces, it was a bold statement on pop culture and the nature of fear.
The first piece in the collection, “Fade to Black,” was composed of white shelves of varying sizes that hold color-coded VHS tapes. The tapes were most likely carefully selected, not only for their fit in the color scheme, but also for their cultural relevance. There are classic horror movies represented like “Rear Window” and “Aliens” as well as more light-hearted comedies like “Big Daddy” and “Joe Dirt.”
Though, the main set of the collection was “The Closet,” composed of graphite drawings that Alvarez worked on between 2006 and 2007. These are interpretations of stills from the movie, “Halloween.” They show unmitigated, pixilated terror.
The drawings have cubist influences, with distorted planes of viewing and deep shaded blocks that confuse the viewer’s eye. However, the inaccessible nature of the warped stills is actually transcended by the overwhelming sense of horror that the drawings emanate.
Of the set of drawings, the most fearsome is Jamie Lee Curtis’ death scene and the picture afterward which is a close-up of her twisted, screaming face. The voyeurism of the piece was applied heavy-handedly with the audience understanding that there was a closet door between the viewer and the victim, accounting for the distorted appearance of the images.
The last piece in the collection is the supremely unsettling “Something to Cry About (I and II).” These are two awkwardly splayed, full-sized body suits made of a patchwork of children’s clothing. Their appendages are at disturbing angles, making it seem as though they were in mid-fall. Made to evoke serial killer Ed Gein’s human skin suits, Alvarez takes a footy-pajama, juvenile reminiscent approach to a subject of complete terror. It’s a show that probes unsettling questions: Do we go to horror movies to fulfill a lust for voyeurism? Why do we treat horrifically grisly acts as a source of entertainment?
— Cara Cerino
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