Chinese Landscapes in Berkeley, CA

0403131437a I spent Easter Week in Berkeley, CA recently and so as I always try to do when visiting a town I went to visit the local art gallery. It is amazing what treasures even a local gallery can have sometimes. Berkeley is the home of hippies and is where the Sixties began, so I was ready also for plenty of whacky stuff. However, it is also the gallery of one of the most famous and wealthiest universities in the US which was founded well before this so hoped for at least something good. The website even mentioned that there was a Rubens in the collection.

It didn't look to hopeful when we approached the gallery and the exterior looked like this...



There are some buildings that, like a pearl inside the oyster shell have beautiful interiors despite their exteriors. This wasn't one of them. It was bare concrete on the outside and bare concrete on the inside. It really could have done with a few good pictures to spruce it up a bit. However, what we were presented with, for the most part, managed against all odds to make it even worse. The whole gallery was given over to an exhibition called 'Silence' which was based upon John Cage's 1950s composition 4'33''. For those who don't know this is a 'composition' in which the musicians sit in front of a blank score for this period of time and follow the instructions to do nothing, ie sit in silence.

As we progressed, it didn't look too hopeful. For example there was I mime artist lying on the ground rolling around in slow motion. It wasn't even interesting enough to affront. Not wanting to cause offence I just quietly walked past as though I hadn't noticed he was there. Most of the rest of stuff is the sort of avant garde modernist stuff that I used to pretend to be interested in order to look arty. Isn't all of this past it's sell by date yet? The was some traditional art - this being the Bay Area lots of Buddhist art. I don't remember any explicitly Christian art of course - they are liberal, but not that liberal. 

I was just beginning to wonder if the curator might have been better advised to have followed John Cage's example and present us with  a series of empty rooms, when I turned the corner and saw a room of traditional Chinese landscapes on screens. 






The monochrome landscapes are worthy of study even by those who wish to work in the Western tradition. The skill in varying the focus, having some areas clearly defined and others hazy, yet maintaining a unified image is great.

What was interesting to me also was the fact that the reverse side of the big screen shown above had a geometric pattern on it, which could have come straight from a Romanesque tiles floor.



So while I can't say that the exhibition is worth travelling a long way to see, these examples made it worthwhile crossing the town.