Stunning New Berkeley Art Museum + Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) Opens Downtown

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The Berkeley Art Museum + Pacific Film Archive is ready for its close-up. After three years of construction and a whopping $112 million capital campaign, the museum reopened on January 31st in a stunning new home that easily joins the ranks of local architectural icons such as the De Young and soon-to-reopen SFMoMa.

Founded in 1963, BAMPFA (spoken as BAM P-F-A) is an exhibition space and resource center for both film and the arts. Its collection encompasses over 19,000 artworks and 17,500 films and videos in addition to a huge library of cinematic archives. Yet, it’s the new building that might draw the biggest oohs and aahs. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the world-renowned firm that created New York’s High Line and LA’s Broad museum, the new BAMPFA is comprised of a repurposed 1939 Art Moderne printing plant and a striking new stainless steel clad structure that partially drapes the original building.

The transformed printing plant offers wonderful gallery space thanks to its open interior and original sawtooth roof with large clerestory windows that flood the space with natural light, while the museum’s layout is decidedly nonlinear and begs visitors to explore and discover. Principal Charles Renfro refers to the space as “the antithesis of efficiency,” explaining that there are numerous places to get lost in space and thought. The three story building includes 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, two theaters, and various study centers that house BAMPFA’s exhaustive collection of film related books, posters and documents.

One of the museum’s most Instagram-worthy spots is the Crane Forum, an airy amphitheater lined with stepped, wooden seating fashioned from pine trees removed during construction. Defining the forum space is Qiu Zhijie’s magnificent 60 x 25 foot mural of a world map imagined as a Chinese garden. The mural is part of BAMPFA’s opening show, Architecture of Life, a multimedia exhibit that examines architecture as both metaphor and practice with works by Lebbeus Woods, Louise Bourgeois, and Ruth Asawa among others.

Film buffs will go weak in the knees once they step foot inside the 232-seat Barbro Osher Theater, a state-of-the-art marvel with multi-format projection, Meyer sound system, and stage for live events such as musical accompaniment for silent films. 

The museum’s film program kicks off with Ingmar Bergman's 1957 existential masterpiece, The Seventh Seal, starring Max Von Sydow as a disillusioned Swedish knight. Part of BAMPFA's year-long Cinema Mon Amour series, a talk with UC Berkeley professor Linda Haverty Rugg and Barbro Osher (after whom the new theater is named) will accompany the screening. It’s also the first of roughly 450 films that the museum plans to screen throughout the year.

A second 33-seat theater will host more intimate events, and we especially love the large, exterior LED screen that illuminates Addison and Oxford Streets and promises outdoor screenings this summer.

Babette, the museum’s sleek cafe that’s accessible without admission fee, is a destination unto itself. Perched on the third floor and cantilevered over Center Street, it's swathed in undulating red walls with interior windows that offer peek-a-boo views of the exhibition spaces below. The cafe will serve a rustic lunch and dinner menu that will change weekly and feature dishes such as a roasted cauliflower salad and brisket tacos. Mornings will mean Verve and Ritual coffee alongside Babette’s rightfully famous homemade pastries.

The museum is located directly across from the UC Berkeley campus, just steps from Berkeley's Downtown BART station. Regular programming begins Wednesday, February 3rd. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-9pm. 


// Berkeley Art Museum + Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center Street, Berkeley, bampfa.org

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