BAMPFA’s Multimedia Exhibition “Way Bay” Showcases Bay Area’s Rich Creative Heritage
BAMPFA accomplishes no small feat with its first 2018 exhibition, “Way Bay,” a comprehensive survey of the San Francisco Bay Area’s artistic production over the past 200 years. From pre-colonial to contemporary visual art, film, sculpture, poetry, and prose, the exhibition explores the various ways artists have interpreted and and responded to the Bay Area’s dynamic geography and culture since the 19th century.
Prior to viewing it, one might be skeptical of the exhibition’s attempt to create a thematically cohesive narrative, given its inclusion of works from such disparate time periods and artistic mediums. But in reality, the exhibition offers an entirely different organizational approach that disregards chronology entirely; the pieces are thoughtfully and innovatively clustered according to mood, juxtaposed to emphasize interconnection through form. As David Wilson, BAMPFA’s engagement associate, explains, “The exhibition itself has more of a poetic structure than an essay structure.”
In what I assume is an effort to accommodate the sheer number of pieces in the exhibition (it boasts around 200 works total), rather than include descriptive text next to each piece, the museum provides hard copy “gallery guides” to which you can refer as you wander through the exhibition, although I didn’t actually find myself referring to the guide much at all; each cluster of pieces, titled with lines of poetry, offers a keen, multidimensional story on its own. No matter your preferred artistic period or medium, you’ll find the exhibition engaging and moving. There is even an interactive postcard segment, featuring more poetry by Bay Area writers and eye-catching risograph prints (yes, the postcards are free to take home!).
One of my favorite features of the exhibition was the film portion, which is integrated throughout the gallery, with films playing continuously either on mounted monitors or hanging screens. The selection includes a variety of genres, from silent films to avant-garde films of the 60s. It even features a film of small-scale models of Marin and San Francisco, originally created at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design using a computer-guided camera for city planning purposes. Film curator Kathy Geritz points out that the gallery invites visitors to view the films again and again, as opposed to just once in a theater setting. In contextualizing film this way, the exhibition allows us to explore the medium as its own artform.
The exhibition has an almost investigative quality as it includes pieces from the museum’s own vast archival resources, as well as from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. It aims to dig deep into Bay Area history in order to highlight the artistic threads that transcend temporal and cultural boundaries. In revisiting the past, however, this compelling exhibition provides a much-needed, powerful glimmer of hope for the Bay Area’s artistic future.
The exhibition will be on view January 17 – June 3, 2018, and new pieces will be on view June 13 - September 2. Below are the exhibition's scheduled events: