Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the surrealist movement, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s “Strange” exhibition gives students and community members the opportunity to experience surrealism thematically.
Larry Rinder, the director and chief curator of BAMPFA and the chief curator of the “Strange” exhibition, worked with Kate MacKay, an associate film curator, and Lynne Kimura, an engagement associate and academic liaison at the Friesen Collections, to create the dynamic exhibition — a cohesive set of pieces that teach the community about surrealism.
“The 100th adversary of surrealism is going to be marked this year, 2019,” said Rinder. “(This year) seemed like a really timely moment to think more broadly about surrealism and to look into the collection to see what works we have from many different time periods and cultures.”
According to Rinder, there was another major source of inspiration for the exhibition: a number of recent donations to the BAMPFA collection that he “knew were wonderful” when he looked at them. Rinder specifically noted works the museum received from Ariel Parkinson and Iris Polos, both of which made it into the exhibition.
Rinder said the exhibition served as a way for the museum to celebrate the art form and look at it more as a “temperament” than as a historical phenomenon. This was clear in the diversity of pieces, both in the time period and in culture.
Rinder said much of the collection was in storage. After going through the collection, Rinder found that he could coalesce multiple pieces from different time periods and cultures that resonated with the “spirit” of surrealism.
“The exhibition came together through a process,” said Linder. “In a way, it started with a handful of works that I knew I wanted to include and that formed a kind of a nucleus out of which I built the concept of the exhibition.”
One poignant and memorable aspect of the exhibition, the “Funny Strange” section, was Rinder’s creative choice to lighten the mood of the gallery overall. According to Rinder, he started to feel that “Strange” was verging into a “dark direction.” Explaining how he sees the current times as “already stressful,” he said did not want to have a “downer” exhibit.
Surrealists themselves, he said, were not about darkness per se. Rinder said he saw surrealists as those who actually depict “utopia” and cited the humor present in the artistic style.
“I wanted to make sure that there was a work in the show that did tap into to the aspect of humor. I thought that the ‘Funny Strange’ section did allow me to include a lot of pieces that are really just very comical,” Rinder said.
Some pieces populating this section of the exhibit include a bong in the shape of President Barack Obama and a picture of a woman lying atop oranges. These whimsical pieces breathe life into the exhibit, giving a contrast to the more dark and unsettling pieces.
According to Rinder, part of the inspiration for the exhibition also stemmed from student input. Rinder said the museum has an annual event called Poster Pizza Palooza, in which the museum is open to all incoming freshmen and transfer students. The event serves as a venue for the museum staff members to give out free pizza and posters and get to know the community better.
Rinder said he and his colleagues often ask students at this event what kinds of art and film they enjoy.
“A remarkable number of students would answer by saying surrealist. They liked surrealist art,” said Rinder. “We hadn’t done any surrealist exhibitions over the past 10 years.”
Students have the opportunity to view “Strange” for a long period of time, as the show has been extended by several weeks and will now end on Jan. 19.
According to Rinder, the extension of the exhibit was timed to align with multiple art fairs that will happen in January in San Francisco.
“(BAMPFA wanted to) show our great works at a time where everyone in the world would be coming to the Bay Area,” said Rinder.
The exhibition will be paired with a film series called “Strange: Surrealist Tendencies in Cinema,” which will be shown Nov. 6-10. The film series will entail three screenings that will dive into various tendencies in surrealism with a focus on cinema. Filmmakers featured include Sidney Peterson, Kidlat Tahimik, Joseph Cornell, Phil Solomon, Lawrence Jordan and Shambhavi Kaul.
Overall, Rinder said this show was one of the most intense that he has ever curated or seen. Rinder said a viewer can usually walk through some art shows pretty quickly and “glance at the wall.” Viewers can spend hours entranced in this exhibition, however.
“This is a show where you look at the art and once you start looking, you can’t look away,” Rinder said. “It’s a fantastic and strange and unusual experience. I think that the people who come will have a very memorable experience.”