Richard Misrach: Berkeley Work

August 14 through October 13, 2002

An exhibition of two series of work spanning three decades and including powerful, iconic images of the Bay Area

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is delighted to present Richard Misrach: Berkeley Work, an exhibition of photographs by internationally acclaimed, Berkeley-based artist Richard Misrach. Berkeley Work presents two series of photographs separated by three decades: Telegraph 3 A.M., a rarely seen early suite of work; and Misrach's spectacular and recent Golden Gate series. Richard Misrach: Berkeley Work opens at the BAM/PFA on August 14, and will remain on view through October 13, 2002.

Richard Misrach is perhaps best known for his explorations of the deserts of the American West. His recent Golden Gate series, however, was taken from his home in the Berkeley Hills, which offers spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1997 Misrach began to photograph the bridge from the front porch of his home, taking each photograph from the exact same viewpoint, but at different times of the day and night. Over the years, photographing this view became an obsession; the thirty works on view in this exhibition are drawn from a collection of more than 700 images. Each photograph features a vast expanse of sky anchored by a thin strip of land and sea, and captures a single moment in the ever-changing atmospheric conditions over San Francisco Bay. The results are spectacular photographs that capture the bridge bathed in dazzling combinations of color and light, ranging from dark, foreboding, blue-gray storm clouds to brilliant red and orange sunsets – and, of course, photographs in which the bridge is completely obscured by fog.

By keeping the view constant from image to image, Misrach focuses attention upon the environmental effects which change from day to day, moment to moment. Misrach's photographs can be closely compared to landscape painting; his images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been likened to color-field paintings by Mark Rothko, or the pristine brilliance of landscapes by Albert Bierstadt. In an essay about American landscape painting, writer Geoff Dyer comments that, in Misrach's photographs of the Golden Gate, it is "as if the sky in every one of the paintings on show at the Tate Britain has, at some point, ended up in the Bay Area." Misrach's repetitive approach to his subject matter evokes impressionist painters such as Paul Cézanne, whose similar obsession with Mt. Ste. Victoire has made that mountain familiar to even the most casual of art appreciators; and to Claude Monet, who portrayed haystacks and the facade of Rouen Cathedral in various seasons and at different times of day.
Misrach's concerns, however, go beyond the beauty of the scenery to encompass the history of view, and the politics of having a view. In the publication that accompanies the exhibition, Richard Misrach: Golden Gate, Misrach notes that what is not apparent in his photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge is his "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." He states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures."

The subject and style of the early photographic series Telegraph 3 A.M. reflect the artist's early idealism and admiration for such photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Photographed in the early 1970s, this series captures life on Telegraph Avenue, which leads directly to the UC Berkeley campus and which was in the late '60s and '70s a mecca for counterculture life. As a young and idealistic photographer, Misrach believed that these images of life on the streets of Berkeley might effect social change. For many years, Misrach counted this early photographic series a failure, despite their selection for a 1975 solo exhibition at New York's International Center for Photography. Misrach now considers the Telegraph Avenue series as a worthy document of that historical moment.

Please note: a selection of images from this exhibition is available as electronic files or slides. Please contact Rod Macneil at (510) 643-6494 or

Public programs
Gallery Talk
Constance Lewallen, Senior Curator for Exhibitions
Thursday, August 15, 12:15 p.m.
Gallery 2
As brackets to Misrach's career to date, Telegraph 3 A.M. and Golden Gate represent two enduring aspects of his photographic approach and philosophy: social responsibility and aesthetic pleasure. Constance Lewallen illuminates issues implied if not foregrounded in the artist's recent work.

Panel discussion
Richard Misrach, Richard Walker, and Kenneth Baker
Sunday, September 15, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Museum Theater
Following a slide-illustrated presentation by Misrach, Richard Walker (UC Berkeley Professor of Cultural Geography) and Kenneth Baker (art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle) will discuss the photographs from environmentalist and aesthetic standpoints, respectively, and engage in discussion with Misrach. The panel will be moderated by Constance Lewallen.

Posted by admin on August 14, 2002