Berkeley Art Center in the1960s


Berkeley Art Center began operation in the late sixties, a time characterized by major political, social, and cultural change. The Free Speech Movement had reached its peak in the mid-sixties and paved the way for major anti-Vietnam war protests. Along with the charged political climate, events such as the Human Be-In occurred at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Carl Worth, the first Director of BAC, attended this event the day before he interviewed for the position. He surprised himself when he began to share the experience at the Be-In during the interview: "I said that I wanted to try to create an exhibition program that had some of the galvanizing, dynamic quality of the Be-In event that brought people together. I said that I felt art was a way of doing that and I thought Berkeley was the right place to create that kind of ambiance." Berkeley Art Center was born from the inspiration of the 1960s around the same time other Bay Area institutions like BAMPFA, Oakland Museum of California, and the Asian Art Museum came into being.

Below are selected exhibitions from the 1960s at the Berkeley Art Center.

Six Figure Painters:
Boyd Allen, Jerrold Ballaine, Robert Bechtle, Gerald Gooch,
Erle Loran, and Richard McClean

May - June, 1967

The year Andy Warhol established his print-publishing business, Factory Additions, Abstract Expressionism was becoming less and less the dominant movement. Pop artists and Bay Area figurative painters challenged the accepted norm. The first BAC exhibition, Six Figure Painters: Boyd Allen, Jerrold Ballaine, Robert Bechtle, Gerald Gooch, Erle Loran, and Richard McClean ran from May 7 - June 10, 1967 and was a reflection of what was happening in SF Bay Area and an aesthetic challenge to the established art world.

Gerald Gooch

Chiura Obata: Sumi Painting
November - December, 1967

Berkeley Art Center finished its first year with Chiura Obata: Sumi Painting exhibition. This would be the first of many exhibitions influenced by Japanese art and culture to take place at the Berkeley Art Center. Obata emigrated to the United States in 1903, at age 17. After initially working as an illustrator and commercial decorator, he had a successful career as a painter, following a 1927 summer spent in the Sierra Nevada, and was a faculty member in the Art Department at UCB from 1932 to 1954, interrupted by World War II, when he spent over a year in internment camps. After his retirement, he continued to paint and to lead group tours to Japan to see gardens and art.

Professor Obata painting in 1944.


Inside the Moon
September - October, 1969

Inside the Moon was a memorable interactive installation at BAC in which large areas of scrim were twisted up into the beams so that the ceiling became a three dimensional projection screen. Quadraphonic sound filled the room and a large harp hung in the middle of the gallery so viewers could pluck on the strings. Large backlit, liquid-filled tubes would slowly turn so that water would undulate inside them. The floor was covered with about ten inches of a thick foam pad so viewers could lie down and look up. You were invited to relax and become a part of the space.* 

*excerpt from 2007 interview with Carl Worth. 

Sculpture: Pat McFarlin and Joe Slusky
July - August, 1969

Major breakthroughs in sculpture took place throughout the 60s and 70s in the Bay Area. Today Joe Slusky's abstract eye-catching sculptures can be seen in public throughout the Bay Area. In this early exhibition he was creating large, active, three-dimensional pieces with pearlescent finishes. Slusky taught many years in the Department of Architecture at UCB. Pat McFarlin came from Arkansas and attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. In 1990, he moved to Santa Fe, where he worked for four years on a SITE project painting over three-hundred portraits.

Airplane, 1967 Joe Slusky