In 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter first peered into the dark tomb of Tutankhamen and famously said that he saw wonderful things. Anyone ever permitted into a major museum's storerooms knows that treasure-trove euphoria, and will enjoy the Berkeley Art Museum's current show, Galaxy: A Hundred or So Stars Visible to the Naked Eye, which features treasures, familiar and unfamiliar, from BAM's huge permanent collection. Director Lawrence Rinder (himself a former BAM curator), Curatorial Associate Stephanie Cannizzo, and Senior Curator for Asian Art Julia White selected 156 objects from the 14,000 or so pieces, spanning five centuries, acquired since the museum's 1963 founding by its first director, Peter Selz. Since, in storage, artworks are grouped not chronologically, but according to the demands of conservation and logistics, "unexpected, often jarring, and occasionally illuminating juxtapositions" are always evident (think of Chirico's inanimate objects and their surprising encounters); the show preserves the best of those "fortuitous association[s]," replacing the historical/geographical distinctions that museums usually employ with aesthetic affinity as organizing principle. Orlik's 1901 etching of German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, for example, and Rembrandt's 1656 etching of silversmith Jan Lutma pair nicely, as do Ensor's atypically abstract "Seascape" (1881) and Rothko's adjacent "Number 207" (1961), or Léger's oil "Figure: Contraste de Formes" (1912) and Camargo's wood assemblage "Relief no. 31-C" (1969). Disparate artworks thus enter into dialogue with each other, and art becomes a continuum rather than the midden implied by avant-gardist extremism, with each cultural layer burying and superseding its predecessors. Not all the stars are always visible, but they remain twinkling in the firmament, even if obscured by weather or planetary bodies (including ours).
A few highlights — yours may vary. Drawings, prints, and photos: Raimondi's engraving "Two Fauns Carrying a Child in a Basket" (1510-20); Blake's 1825 engravings "With Dreams upon my Bed" and "Behold Now Behemoth Which I Made With Thee"; Goya's "Disparate ridiculo" (1815-23); Rouault's etchings "Les ruines elles-memes ont peri" (1926) and "Debout les morts" (1927); Erwitt's "Paris 1959" (1959); and Conner's "Inkblot Drawing" (1991). Paintings: Kantor's oil "Composition #5" (1959); Jess' oil "Figure 5 — Mrs. Sarah Winchester" (1966); Bechtle's oil "'60 T-Bird" (1967-8); and Tuymans' oil "Superstition" (1994). Sculptures: Kramer's "Jorg's Chair" (1966); Tinguely's "Black Knight" (1964); and Lassaw's sculpture "Karuna" (1966). The casual gallery guide notes make for informative and provocative reading. Through August 30 at Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley). BAMPFA.com or 510-642-0808.
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