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At the BAMPFA, Masters of the Undeservedly Obscure

A new show features more than 200 Bay Area artists.

Filmmaker Bruce Baillie 


For its latest exhibition, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is leaning on the depth, rather than the star wattage, of its permanent collection. The show, Way Bay, features more than 200 Bay Area artists; together, the works tell a nuanced story about “the poetic qualities that artists in this area have been mining for decades,” curator Lawrence Rinder says. While unfamiliar to many, these artists have played a crucial role in the Bay Area’s arts scene. Here, a few whose influence has eclipsed their name recognition.

Bruce Baillie
In founding Canyon Cinema and San Francisco Cinematheque in the 1960s, Baillie inspired a generation of avant-garde filmmakers, including a teenage George Lucas. Baillie’s lyrical unorthodoxy is on display in his single-take film All My Life, which curator Kathy Geritz calls “a moment of exquisite contemplation.”

Xara Thustra
Thustra, a Mission School contemporary of Barry McGee and Alicia McCarthy, has remained an outsider—by choice. Thustra’s mural This is what we’re for and this is what we’ll get exemplifies that. “I think of it as this fight of working-class artists against the institutionalized ideology that wants to oppress,” says Dena Beard, director of experimental art space the Lab.

James McCray
In 1941, McCray was tasked with rejuvenating the California School of Fine Arts (now SFAI). McCray recruited titans of abstract expressionism including Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, along with Bay Area figurative pioneer David Park. “His awareness of European and American modernism brought a very sophisticated sense of abstraction to the Bay Area,” Rinder says.


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco 

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