Berkeley Art Center in 1980s

For many, the 80s was a decade of excess wealth, political conservatism, punk and new wave, a preoccupation with mass media, and a devastating AIDS epidemic. Artists such as Nan Goldin, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, and scores of others wanted to disrupt modernist notions about beauty. The San Francisco Bay Area art scene continued to expand as artists and musicians created thought provoking new works. Berkeley Art Center experienced a brief closure after an arson fire in 1981, but reopened in 1982. By the mid-80’s BAC was back in full swing with a variety of juried shows, poetry readings, and exhibitions focused on social narratives that reflected the rapidly changing times.

Below are selected exhibitions from the 1980’s at the Berkeley Art Center. 

Common Threads: Kate Delos, Mildred Howard
January - February, 1980

Mildred Howard is a long time bay area artist well known for her large-scale sculptural installations. Over the years Howard's work has won numerous awards. She has shown her work all over the world including Berlin, Cairo and England.

Kate Delos is a bay area an artist and art instructor known for her bookmaking and painting. She lives in the Bay Area and had taught at the various local schools over the years. Her works have been featured across the west coast, as well as Paris and Tokyo.

Ethnic Notions: Black Images in the White Mind
October - December, 1982

In the early 1960s, Jan Faulkner, an undergraduate at Lincoln University in Missouri, began a collection of black ephemera that has since been exhibited in museums, featured in monographs and the subject of a film documentary produced by Marlon Riggs in 1986. Ethnic Notions takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing for the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled racial prejudice.

BAC exhibited only part of the massive collection and published a catalog with essays by Leon F. Litwack and Erskine Peter. Curated by BAC Executive Director Robbin Henderson, the exhibition featured controversial images of Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Rastus, the chef on the Cream of Wheat box, still being used to sell products today. Few are aware that these icons are only the tip of an enormous iceberg of African-American stereotypes used to sell everything from syrup, fried chicken, candy, coffee, yams, toothpaste, and laundry detergent to golf tees, tobacco, clothing, liquor, toys, novelties and greeting cards.

Sculpture by John Abduliaami 

Intuitive Artists:
John Abduljaami and Ida Wilcher
May, 1985

Both self taught artists, Abduljaami's and Wilcher's works were characterized by simple direct handling of the media -- chopping, carving and painting. The large wooden figurative sculptures by John Abduljaami exuded a strong personal imagery evolved from raw primitive energy. When struck by Parkinson's disease, Ida Wilcher, a dancer from New York, moved to Berkeley and discovered painting. Her lively paintings were an expression of her inner ability to move with freedom (like a dancer) through spheres of color and space.


Peter Selz Selects:
Seventeen Berkeley Artists

October - November, 1988

As part of Berkeley’s first Multicultural Arts Festival Berkeley Art Museum founder Peter Selz was invited to jury an exhibition of local artists. The seventeen painters and sculptors chosen included: Elmer Bischoff, Robert Brady, Christopher Brown, Robert Carabas, Enrique Chagoya, James Cook, Stephen De Staebler, Sohela Farokhi, Rupert Garcia, Oliver Jackson, Betty Kano, Sylvia Lark, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Jean Rainer, Raymond Saunders, Barbara Shawcroft, and Peter Voulkos. In the catalog foreword Selz wrote, “The men and women presented here cover a wide range in age and degree of fame, in ethnic background, and in style. If anything can be said about the art of the 1980s, it is the plurality of stylistic form.” Selz is a professor emeritus of art history at UCB, is still living in Berkeley, in a modernist house in the hills.