The Berkeley Art Museum is currently hosting 1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath Photographs by Richard Misrach, a series of pictures taken in the days following the horrific fire. A Berkeley-based photographer, Misrach is famous for his striking landscape shots of Western America. And his photos of the Oakland-Berkeley fire is certainly no exception. He had a most tasteful and eloquent portrayal of the subjects he chose. Out of respect of those affected by the disaster, Misrach only very recently released the series. So, it is both an honor and a privilege for BAM to display them so soon.
In a word, the exhibit is haunting. Encompassing levels four and five of the museum, the photographs are primarily large prints in shades of gray, black, and white. The limited color scheme reflects the profound devastation in each of these images. Particularly striking are photos of former homes, which were mere skeletons, with only the chimneys left standing in solitude. “Untitled (of 98-91: Mailbox, Alpine Terrace)” depicts a terracotta pot colored garage, seemingly untouched in the foreground, amidst a ravaged house lying behind it. To the right of the home lies a leaf-less tree and some patio furniture, both clearly devoid of any form of life. The majority of the photos echo this theme of silent beauty, another one being “Untitled (of 107-91: Melted Tricycle) which shows nothing but charred branches, a rusted pipe, and the half-melted remnants of a tricycle. Though the plastic children’s tricycle retains its color, it is harshly warped, reflecting a deep sadness inflicted by the terrible disaster.
Amidst skies clouded with smoke and dust, the discolored and disjointed house frames and furniture express a silent lifelessness that has a beauty all in its own. Richard Misrach captured the horrific fire of 1991 in a tasteful, elegant manner that can only be fully appreciated by experiencing it firsthand. The exhibit will be on display until February 5th and it is certainly worth a visit. For more information about the Berkeley Art Museum, or the Oakland-Berkeley Fire exhibit, visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/misrach_fire.