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BAMPFA Reopens After Yearlong Closure With Unique New Exhibitions

After a long year without the museum, many are delighted to see the latest one-of-a-kind exhibitions, despite the numerous COVID-19 safety precautions.


On April 30, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) reopened its doors to the public. BAMPFA has been closed since March 15, 2020, and finally reopened for members and for University of California (UC), Berkeley students on Friday, April 30. The following day, BAMPFA opened for essential frontline workers. Finally, the museum was again made accessible for the general public on Sunday, May 2.

BAMPFA has been a center for art in the Berkeley community for the 50 years it has been open, especially for UC Berkeley students. Its closure left its exhibits completely dormant for over a year, so the reopening created a surreal and nostalgic reconnection for its visitors. 

Saffron Sener and Ruby Bracher, UC Berkeley students and co-chairs of the BAMPFA Student Committee, stepped foot in the museum for the first time in over a year on May 1, and explained how happy they were to hear of its reopening.

“It was really exciting. As long as it’s safe and everybody working here is comfortable with it, then yeah, I’m really, really excited,” said Bracher.

“I think [BAMPFA’s reopening] is really exciting for a lot of the people who are new to UC Berkeley, either transfers or freshmen, who have never gotten to see the arts here; I think it’s a wonderful chance to do that,” said Sener.

BAMPFA has instituted many new COVID-19 safety precautions to protect its patrons and staff, including opening at 25 percent capacity, having limited hours, new cleaning procedures, regular COVID-19 testing of staff, and a mask requirement for all visitors and staff. Patrons are advised to purchase tickets for specific time slots before visiting to ensure limited capacity. Four of BAMPFA’s eight galleries are open, but the indoor theater and live performances will remain closed for the time being. 

“Prioritizing safety is our number one thing,” said BAMPFA Publicist AJ Fox. “We want to have audiences back in a way that we know we can guarantee their health and safety.”

The largest of the four exhibits currently open is the Rosie Lee Tompkins exhibit, which features a collection of dramatic and colorful abstract quilts. BAMPFA became the world’s leading holder of African American quilts last year, after art collector Eli Leon donated his collection of three thousand quilts to the museum, including five hundred of Rosie Lee Tompkins’. Tompkins’ quilts were first displayed last February, and garnered national attention. Unfortunately, the museum was forced to close a month later. Now the quilts are finally viewable again to visitors. 

One of the downstairs galleries of the museum is occupied by a new exhibition titled “Beyond Boundaries,” featuring stone sculptures depicting the life of Buddha. The sculptures were created in the Gandhara region north of India, between the second and tenth centuries CE. The exhibition is worth a visit, considering BAMPFA is one of the first American museums to examine the blend of European and South Asian art styles from the region in this time period. 

Adjacent to “Beyond Boundaries” is “Present Tense,” an exhibit curated by UC Berkeley students about colonization in Latin America. “Present Tense” is part of the “Cal Conversations” series, a yearly exhibition entirely created by students at UC Berkeley. 

“I think it’s a great idea to have students’ art in the museum. … It’s amazing,” said BAMPFA staff member and UC Berkeley student Michelle Marin. 

Finally, the museum is also showing a new display of photographs by German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger. Her work focuses on history and culture off the beaten path, specifically in Eastern Europe and Asia. The photo series goes along with a film series, which is streamable from BAMPFA’s website. Although the theater is closed, the museum website contains a multitude of rentable films. 

“It was really important to us that, even though we can’t safely bring people into the theater just yet, and we look forward to doing so soon, that we’re able to maintain a connection with our film audiences through the online work that we’re curating,” said Fox. He encourages all visitors to watch the films online, as well as view the art in the museum. 

The BAMPFA Art Lab, which has been a community gathering place for local artists, is still closed, but continues to host events and art-making tutorials available on the website.

BAMPFA, located at 2155 Center Street, is open 11 AM to 5 PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Tickets to the museum are now timed, so that only a certain number of people are let in every half hour. Walkups are limited, so patrons are encouraged to book tickets ahead of time to ensure a spot. Entry is free for everyone 18 and under, as well as UC Berkeley students. General admission has also been reduced to ten dollars.

The museum has a multitude of upcoming shows, including textile art by Berkeley artist Kay Sekimachi on May 28, and the Masters of Fine Arts exhibitions in May and June, which entirely feature art from UC Berkeley students. 

Despite its long closure, BAMPFA is continuing to support the Berkeley community as much as possible, while following COVID-19 guidelines. Its reopening marks a new hope for residents during the pandemic, as businesses and museums start to open their doors to visitors again.