Art naturally allows viewers to recognize their own power in a work, which begs the question: What about an entire exhibit that understands the importance in showcasing that power? On July 13, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, opened the “Berkeley Eye: Perspectives on the Collection” exhibit.
Organized by BAMPFA Director Jacquelynn Baas, the exhibit showcases art that welcomes viewers to observe works of art and create their own personal interpretations. Approximately 150 substantial works of art are presented in eight thematic groupings: Bible Stories; Nature; Human Nature; Barriers and Walls; Connection and Change; Space, Time, Energy; Black, White, Gray; and Into the Light. And appropriately, many of the artists are from Berkeley, went to UC Berkeley or have another connection with Berkeley.
Although there are organized sections within the exhibit, it is not arranged in chronological order. Instead, visitors coming into the exhibit have the freedom to explore in any order they prefer. “There’s a map in the brochure that comes with it so that you can go to the sections that interest you the most and look at those and maybe come back another time and look at the other sections,” Baas explained in an interview with The Daily Californian.
The Berkeley Eye is one of the first exhibitions of the summer since the reopening of the BAMPFA earlier this year with the successful loan show “Architecture of Life.” While the show contained some works from the Berkeley Eye collection, BAMPFA’s staff decided to wait until summer to open a fuller range of collection exhibitions.
Baas’ vision for the viewers entering the museum aligns with what the pieces mean to the exhibition. The exhibition focuses on art that triggers viewers to further think and observe beyond what is on the canvas. Each of the eight thematic groupings showcases a variety of different mediums from different eras. Baas’ vision for the Berkeley Eye exhibition makes self-interpretation a fundamental priority as people walk through the gallery.
“I want (viewers) to feel interested, to look, and to find works that speak to them, to find things that they didn’t know, to discover things even about themselves,” Baas explained.
Welcoming the exhibit is Sylvia Fein’s “Crucial Eye,” which introduces the collection with a portrait of an eye. Surrounded in a simple palette of light green, yellow and blue hues, the eye is drawn in a plain outline, yet pops off the canvas, staring directly in one direction. The portrait of the eye starts the exploration of the gallery, activating the clairvoyance to one’s mind.
Halfway through the exhibit is the Connection and Change category, where pieces alongside Jay DeFeo’s “Origin” are displayed. “Origin” is an oil painting of a waterfall-like illustration, capturing the wave scooping down towards gravity. The staccato strokes of the painting build the depth as it uses a variety of light and dark monotonous shades in different concentrated areas. The varying complementary shades of tan, blue and black exude a calmingly thin atmosphere. There’s depth in “Origin,” but a type of depth that doesn’t overwhelm; all of its layers are visible inside and out. Like the crashing of waves, there is a sense of relief and release that ties in with the nature of being calm and setting the mind at ease.
Each theme can individually or collectively connect with the viewers. Baas adds, “The reason why I started to look at art when I was young was to find things about myself. The thinking of visual artists’ is that we (can) understand more of who we are as human beings by engaging with works of art.”
Closing the exhibition is the Black, White, Gray theme. John McLaughlin’s “#15” is one of the many works of art in this section that display visual juxtapositions. “One of the things that the thematic approach allows is the juxtapositions of works … they kind of speak to each other,” explained Baas. McLaughlin’s “#15” is done with a minimalistic approach. The use of the solid black and white palette outlines overlapping rectangles. Like yin and yang, one side contrasts directly with the other while still symbolizing one unified concept.
“There is no one right response to a work of art. I think artists are always interested in how viewers respond because artists often don’t anticipate what the response will be,” Baas explained.
That’s the beauty of the Berkeley Eye exhibition: It embraces self interpretation and reflection toward art. It embraces the importance of why art exists — to create a visual platform and to have it be shared by others who enjoy it, who connect with it and who want to take a part of it and make it last.