Lay of the BAM

The Berkeley Art Museum Unveils Bay Area Architect Thom Faulders' Inviting, Undulating Installation 'BAMscape'

Anne Marie Schuler/Staff

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Lay of the BAM
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The Berkeley Art Museum's newest exhibit is vibrant and visually intriguing, but it is not meant for mere aesthetic admiration. In fact, the modular installation implores you to climb, sit, read, eat, caffeinate and chat. Fusing sculpture, furniture and stage, award-winning Berkeley-based architect Thom Faulders offers "BAMscape," the new interactive centerpiece of the museum's spacious atrium, Gallery B.

The piece is an amalgamation of 20 inch wide amorphously-shaped orange waves. Viewed from above, the undulations of the panorama evoke images of a fiery sea or incandescent hills. Fittingly, Faulders's vision was to create a social site of synthesis-an internal landscape of functionality, reusability and repose. The open-ended invitation to walk anywhere, climb any curve and sit any way that feels comfortable puts the responsibility on the user: There are no prescriptions for how one "should" approach the modular installation.

Museum director Lawrence Rinder wishes to transform the empty gallery into a dramatic, engaging, inhabited atmosphere. The desired denizens are students, who always have free admission, yet often don't take advantage of the unlimited visits to BAM. The hope is that "BAMscape" will extend the museum's foundational aspirations "to be locally connected and globally relevant, engaging audiences from the campus, community, and beyond".

Thom Faulders was commissioned to create a structure that would transmute the nearly 7000 square foot Gallery B into a Berkeley student hub. His vision for "BAMscape" deliberately complements the museum building, which was designed by San Francisco architect Mario Ciampi and was completed in 1970. Surrounded by walls of windows that allow a surfeit of light into the area, Gallery B has previously been challenging for traditional exhibitions and often served as an amphitheater for performance art. The contrast between the amorphous curves against the original angular architecture allows for a rediscovery of this space 40 years after BAM first opened its doors.

Faulders's sculptural work needed to provide a comfortable configuration where individuals could recline and lounge. The tiered distribution of the mounds accommodates group seating and affords a natural place to congregate. The inevitabilities of spillage, foot-tread and significant wear and tear were accounted for in the surface design.

What Faulders calls an "engine for public interaction" exudes an incendiary energy with its free-form, organic contours and electrifying orange hue. Juxtaposed against the expansive, stark, gray gallery walls and floor, the piece welcomes vivacious habitation of a setting that usually strives to preserve silence. Museums are typically not the first place most people think to study, stop by for a quick visit or purchase legal liquid stimulants. "BAMscape" alluringly contests the general perception of art galleries as sterile, uninviting environments and intentionally hybridizes the space for frequent use.

Wireless internet and electrical outlets built into the piece are a few of the immediate enticements. Coffee will be available; spills are anticipated and accounted for with an easy to clean, durable surface. Shoes, however, must be removed and left in a designated area. For those with slippery socks or stinky feet, booties are available.

Unfortunately, "BAMscape" is only accessible during the museum's hours, which may impede student use. The massive midnight migration of Cafe Milano patrons when music-blasting and light-flickering signals the time to leave confirms that a 5 p.m. closing time is not conducive to most study schedules. However on Friday nights, BAM will remain open late and will use Faulders's centerpiece for performances.

In the sculpture's vibrant orange glow, Faulders forges a direct link between this new creation and a foundational painting from BAM's permanent collection. Prominent Abstract Expressionist and museum benefactor Hans Hofmann's colorful "Indian Summer" (1959) is easily seen from Gallery B. Hofmann strove to translate the visual and spiritual experience of nature's forces, stating, "In nature-light creates color. In painting-color creates light." With its incandescent hue and a name evocative of expansive natural panoramas, Faulders's piece pays homage to a key force behind the museum's genesis and breathes new life into a previously quiescent space.

The interior landscape perfectly falls in line with the museum's mission to "inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through art and film" while drawing upon Hoffman's use of color and abstraction to capture nature.

With the construction of "BAMscape," the art serves as the literal and metaphorical "seat" of conversation, relaxation, study and performance. The museum's invitation to utilize this unique topographical construction is just one more reason to frequent the phenomenal and playful contemporary art haven.


Jennafer McCabe is the lead visual arts critic. Contact her at [email protected]

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