Amidst 'Way Bay 2,' Rediscovering the Audacious Life of Frank Moore

Frank Moore, Detail of 'Patti Smith,' 1979; Gift of Linda Mac and Michael LaBash, Inter-Relations. (Courtesy of University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive)

Way Bay 2, the second installment of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s Bay Area survey, opened on June 13 with some changes to the previous show. Part California history lesson and part fine art exhibit, the exhibition offers a marriage of known and unknown Bay Area artists, with nods to underground art trends and moving pictures from the museum's film archives.

Highlights include a loudly ringing bell encased in plastic, silencing it for the outside world (Zarouhie Abdalian’s As a Demonstration) and a painting portraying the impending extinction of the white rhino (William T. Wiley’s 1966 piece The White Rhino Injured), a work that takes on special meaning now, a mere month after the last white male rhino died. In fact, much of Way Bay 2 is about preservation of memory, both past and present.

The show also features one of the late artist Frank Moore’s paintings, an aggressively abstract and eponymously titled portrait of Patti Smith. BAMPFA director and Way Bay curator Larry Rinder sought out Moore’s paintings last year, securing a promised gift from the estate. But Patti Smith arrived at BAMPFA earlier than planned; the estate needed to send the painting over post haste, they were moving. Frank Moore’s Berkeley home had gone on the market.

Moore and Linda Mac in front of their purple Berkeley home; the bedroom gallery, featuring many of Moore's paintings.
Moore and Linda Mac in front of their purple Berkeley home; the bedroom gallery, featuring many of Moore's paintings. (Courtesy of Inter-Relations)

Born with cerebral palsy in 1946, Moore was unable to communicate without the assistance of a family member until age 17, when he invented his own speech board. Known for his exhibitionism and performance art pieces, rumors of him traveling the streets of Berkeley followed by naked women come up at the very mention of his name.

Moore, who passed away in 2013, led such an audacious life he is now the subject of a new documentary by local filmmaker Keith Wilson. Deep inside the Shaman’s Den is set to release in the summer of 2019 with support from the Bay Area Video Coalition.

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Moore was many things—a shaman, a punk singer, a radio DJ, a writer, director and a 2008 write-in presidential candidate whose platform called for a minimum monthly income, universal health care and a ban on international arms sales.

The street number at Moore's former home.
The street number at Moore's colorful home (inside and out). (Courtesy of Inter-Relations)

With so much character to explore, Wilson aims to tell his story in a “Frank Moore” style: fast paced and colorful. Reflecting on his documentary, Wilson says, “I don't plan on providing simple answers or easy takeaways for an artist who himself refused to be pigeon-holed. I want viewers to question their relationship to (dis)ability.”

“Easy was never an option for Frank,” says Wilson. Moore spent most of his daily life fighting against the limitations of an ableist society. Moore described himself as “spastic and lucky”—lucky to be born into a body fit for performance art with an extroverted personality ready to push boundaries. He even went so far as to express remorse for those born with the burden of being non-disabled.

Wilson first became aware of Moore during a working lunch with documentarian and performance artist Annie Sprinkle; she recalled the spectacle that dining with Moore always offered. Vaguely aware of Moore’s name, Wilson dug deeper and soon found himself spelunking, as he says, “deep into a cave of long and lusty performance videos that were both disturbing and alluring.”

The front door of Moore's home before and after renovations to facilitate the sale of the house.
The front door of Moore's home before and after renovations to facilitate the sale of the house. (Courtesy of Inter-Relations and Keith Wilson)

“Frank's life and work comes from his boundless and contagious belief in possibilities,” Wilson says. “Much of his work is about dismissing the limitations placed on us by society and by ourselves.” In his self-published 2011 autobiography, Moore recalls hitchhiking cross-country, executing “non-film productions” and performance art pieces that lasted through the night.

The plan to sell Moore’s house rattled Wilson at first. The house served as a character in both Moore’s life and Wilson’s documentary—it was a connection to the fading free love movement of the 1960s and Frank Moore’s creativity. Moore's home was also his work space; subjects sat for paintings there, disciples arrived to study his spiritual teachings. The walls of the house were covered in large canvases, all painted by Moore with a brush affixed to his head. The house served as a museum dedicated to a man who lived to overcome.

But Wilson took the sale of the house in stride. He's now in the process of creating a virtual reality project where viewers will be able to interact with Moore’s work. Of this project, Wilson says, “It will serve as a new model for experiencing and researching archives.”

Frank Moore’s work is on view at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 'Way Bay 2' through Sept. 2, details here. Keith Wilson speaks on Frank Moore’s life at 1:30pm on June 30 at BAMPFA, details here.

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