History of the Berkeley Art Museum

While the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will unfortunately be closing its current location on Bancroft Way this year, it has had a great run over the past 50 years. The museum’s incredible collection of art, with nods to so many different periods throughout history, will be moving to a new location in Downtown Berkeley soon. Its closing celebration last week inspires us here at the Clog to take a quick retrospective look at the history of the museum.

1963: The museum was founded after Hans Hofmann, a German abstract-expressionist painter and a professor at UC Berkeley, donated his collection of 45 paintings and $250,000 to the school.

1964: UC Berkeley holds a competition to see who will design the museum building.

1965: Out of 366 applicants , the winners are announced as Bay Area architect Mario Ciampi, with associates Richard L. Jorasch and Ronald E. Wagner. Ciampi championed modernist architecture, designing the overpasses over Interstate 280 and developing plans for Downtown San Francisco’s Market Street and Embarcadero and United Nations plazas in 1963.

1967: Construction on the new building begins. Sylvia Hart Wright, in “Sourcebook of Contemporary Architecture: From Postwar to Postmodern,” says, “When completed, it was the country’s largest university art museum. Located just off campus, its casual concrete ramps lure the passerby into its galleries; its terraces overlook a sunny sculpture garden.”

1970: The museum is finished, and at its opening, Beat poets Gary Snyder, Richard Brautigan and Robert Duncan recite some of their work, avant-garde Anna Halprin and fellow dancers perform and artists William Wiley and Robert Hudson show up. The firxt exhibit is “Excellence: Art from the University Community,” an exhibition of some 600 works of art from the cultures of Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania.

1970 – present: The museum exhibits its 16,000 works of art and 14,000 films and videos, including solo exhibits of Juan Gris, Jay DeFeo, Robert Colescott, Andrea Fraser, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sebastiao Salgado, Rosemarie Trockel, Bruce Nauman and Jackson Pollock, and thematic shows such as “Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art;” “Made in U.S.A.: An Americanization in Modern Art, the ‘50s & ‘60s;” “The Here and the Hereafter: Images of Paradise in Islamic Art;” “In a Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice” and “Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds.”

1971: Pacific Film Archive opens in Berkeley Art Museum. Founder Sheldon Renan says in a February 1971 interview, “This whole thing is put together with spit, chewing gum, good intentions, cooperation from the film community and overhead paid by the Museum. I’m not over-budget or under-budget because I haven’t got a budget.”

1997: The modern concrete building is deemed seismically unstable in the event of an earthquake.

1999: The Pacific Film Archive moves across the street to its current location near the Hearst Annex.

2001: The building is upgraded slightly in an attempt to improve its safety.

2011: Plans are announced to move the building to a new location on Center and Oxford streets in Downtown Berkeley. The art-deco building has been unoccupied since 2004 and will be repurposed to serve as a gallery, education, store and office space. The new building is designed by New York-based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

2013: $100 million dollar construction begins on the new building.

2015: The Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive hosts its [email protected] FLASH closing party in honor of the museum’s departure from its current location.

2016: The new Berkeley Art Museum will be open to the public.

Contact Holly Secon at [email protected].