Amid the usual gloom and doom these days, we don't often hear of someone doing something right, so kudos (or, rather, props, dudes) to the University of California at Berkeley. After nearly a decade's hiatus, the Morrison Library is reopening its Graphic Arts Loan Collection, an archive of nearly 1,000 fine original prints (and even some sculptures) assembled by architecture/design professor and art historian Herwin Schaefer between 1958 and his retirement in 1979. Original artworks by major masters, both old and modern, will shortly be available to UC students and employees, free, for one-semester loans (although works that have appreciated to a certain level will be retired from active dorm/office duty).
This is a wonderful, unique program, and the Cal community will presumably take advantage of it as it has in the past. A web site is in the works, but right now you can peruse a small selection of 33 pieces on display at the Berkeley Art Museum in the free downstairs gallery next to the Pacific Film Archive. Featuring works from 1650 to 1950 or so, but with a greater concentration on the 20th century, it's an eclectic gathering: Rembrandt and Tiepolo from the Baroque era; Géricault, Whistler, Sickert, Bonnard, Ranson, and Pissarro from the 19th century (Schaefer's area of expertise), representing Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolism; and Rouault, Morandi, Feininger, Klee, Hartley, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Nolde, Chagall, Marcoussis, Miró, Braque, Matisse, Léger, Munakata, Nesch, and Dubuffet from the 20th century, waving the banners and freak flags of Expressionism, Abstraction, Cubism, Surrealism, and Art Brut.
Much has been made in recent years on the irrelevance and futility of art — a mere symbol or simulacrum, after all, according to Platonist and postmodernist alike. Even Sister Wendy Beckett, hardly a gimlet-eyed radical theorist, cheerily asserted that seeing a postcard was just about as good as seeing an original. While such ideas are perversely entertaining, and even sometimes intellectually bracing, the experience of real works of art tends to put things in more traditional perspective. Good art stays art, as Picasso said, regardless of fads and fashions, and it finds its audiences not just in space but also in time, as depicted in Sokurov's mystical film, Russian Ark, about art, time, and museology. As one field man once said to another about another ark, it's a radio for speaking to God. The Graphic Arts Loan Collection exhibits through August 3 at the Berkeley Art Museum (2625 Durant Ave., Berkeley). BAMPFA.berkeley.edu or 510-642-0808.
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