BAMPFA Hosts Filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger’s Sumptuous Photographs

While I cannot in good conscience recommend a number of events I would ordinarily select for The Do List due to coronavirus concerns (and while most organizations announce the cancelation of those events in quick succession), exhibitions remain a fairly low-risk proposition for most Bay Area residents.

For starters, you’re not supposed to touch the artwork anyway, so there’s far less surfaces to come in contact with at a museum. All major Bay Area institutions are taking extra precautions to protect patrons and museum employees alike, with increased custodial services, canceled interactive experiences and closed coat checks.

So if you’re feeling starved for visual stimuli beyond your immediate environs during this time of social distancing, a careful visit to the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archives could be just the treatment. And if you’re looking for the most stimulating of visual stimuli, Berlin artist Ulrike Ottinger will not disappoint.

Ulrike Ottinger, 'The dismembering of the bait (Das Zerstückeln des Köders),' 1982. (© Ulrike Ottinger)

Ottinger may be best known as a filmmaker. Her four-decade-long career gets worthy attention in BAMPFA’s ongoing series East Meets West (March 8–June 28, though all screenings are now postponed due to the coronavirus until March 29), showing 10 of her narrative and documentary films, each a study in a specific time and place, some mediated by Ottinger herself.

But come March 25, the museum devotes some of its gallery space to Ottinger’s parallel practice as a photographer. Covering a timespan of decades, the MATRIX 276 show displays Ottinger’s portraits, landscapes and ever-present eye for detail, composition and color.

Many photographs draw from the imagery of her films, which often include lavish, fantastical costumes, dramatic settings and sumptuous style. Visible in her photographs and films are traces of her wide travels (China, Mongolia, the Bering Sea), her penchant for extravagance, and the freedom she finds in shaping images to the limits of her own imagination.

Bolstered by these possibilities—and lessons in visual excess—we might better withstand the weeks of uncertainty and anxiety ahead. –Sarah Hotchkiss

March 25, 2020

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
2155 Center St., Berkeley

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