Now that it’s relocated at Downtown Berkeley, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive is doing its best to remind us how lucky we are to have such a great museum within walking distance. Not only is BAMPFA having a weeklong roster of events to celebrate its grand opening — including a space-themed opening party for students — the museum has put together an impressive collection of pieces for its inaugural exhibition, “Architecture of Life.” The exhibition explores “architecture” as a fluid metaphor for all sorts of ideas. Out of the dozen of artists on display, here are three incredibly influential artists whose pieces are part of the collection. We explain why they’re influential, and why you should be excited to see their work at “Architecture of Life.”
Ruth Asawa is an artist who makes any art-lover proud to live in the Bay Area. The Japanese-American sculptor gained international recognition in the 1950s but maintained strong ties to the Bay Area throughout her life. In San Francisco, there is even a Ruth Asawa School of the Arts honoring the artist’s local legacy.
Asawa gained international recognition in the ‘50s for a series of mystifying, hanging wire sculptures. The basket-like woven textures suggest a humble type of folk art that transcends cultural boundaries: While she learned her technique of wire-weaving in Mexico, her pieces’ curves are reminiscent of gourds. While her pieces are all over the Bay Area — at Lake Merritt, in downtown San Francisco, in the de Young — you can save yourself the exhausting journey by seeing one of her famous wire sculptures right in your own backyard at the BAMPFA.
By now, Marcel Duchamp is a fixture in our art history textbooks as a key figure of the Dadaist movement, which promoted an aggressively experimental form of anti-art. Yet, even though it has been a century since he made his most famous works, these works have somehow maintained their provocative edge and their often hilarious, prankster quality.
Duchamp was a key figure in making found objects a legitimate form of art. His most famous work, “Fountain,” is actually just a urinal with a random signature, and it is the most pure manifestation of the sentiment, “How is this art? I could’ve done that!” which still frustrates many museumgoers. Yet, at the center of his art is a rebellious spirit that encourages his audience to challenge tradition, forget the rules, and think outside the that will surely resonate with students at Berkeley.
A French-American sculptor, Louise Bourgeois has crafted some of the most instantly recognizable sculptural art of 20th century United States. Bourgeois made her most celebrated pieces in the ‘90s, when she started working with spiders as surrealist metaphors for motherhood. Her most famous piece, “Maman,” is a towering, 30-foot spider made of bronze, stainless steel and marble. At first glance, the giant, metallic creature seems intimidating and alien. Then, you notice the egg sac at its belly, and you realize that this is a figure of nurturing, love and devotion. Indeed, you can step through its legs and stand beneath, and you feel as if this spider will protect you from the world.
Bourgeois commented on her piece, saying, “The spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.” Although she rejected the label, Bourgeois’ sculptures have become some of the most important statements of feminist art. Her piece on display at the BAMPFA is called “Fee Couturiere,” which literally translates to “Fairy Seamstress,” and the sculpture continues her thoughtful expressions of femininity.
Jason Chen is the special issues editor. Contact him at [email protected].