Skip to content

Art and artifacts from the people – new objects added spring 2022

“Without the voice of the people, the Oakland Museum of California might have become just another museum.”
–OMCA 5th anniversary publication  

“Right from the start, it was obvious that it had to be a ‘people’s museum,’ a gift from the people to themselves.”  
– Kevin Roche, Museum architect

The Oakland Museum of California is a “people’s museum,” a place where all voices are heard, all things are tried, all stories are told.  This April, OMCA brings three additions to the collections that continue to tell new stories of people of California.

Native baskets in the Gallery of California History

OMCA celebrates the multiplicity of people, places, and aspirations that continue to shape the California experience and identity. Currently, the California Indian collections contain everyday and ceremonial objects, including thousands of baskets from hundreds of Indigenous cultural groups across the state. To continue to show a more complete perspective of California and its people, 33 new baskets will be installed.

The baskets range in size and purpose and represent over 16 various cultural affiliations including Hupa-Yurok, Klamath River Indian, Karuk, Karok| Klamath River Indian, Northern Miwok, Pomo, Maidu, Monache, Norfolk Mono, Mountain Maidu, Modoc| Klamath, Miwok, Wintun, Wintu, Northern Wintun, Yurok| Hupa, and Eastern Mono.

By observing and reflecting on these baskets, visitors will be able to better understand the beautiful and diverse tribes of the land, along with the deep ecological and cultural ties these tribes have to the California landscape.
To see these baskets, visit the Gallery of California History at OMCA

M, Fletcher Benton on view in the Upper Level Garden

Fletcher Benton, a contemporary American artist best known for his kinetic sculptures began his celebrated Alphabet series— comprised of 26 large-scale steel sculptures of the letters of the alphabet—in the 1970s. His large, aluminum and plexiglass sculpture, M,  landed at the Museum in 1974. Originally, it was part of an exhibit entitled “Public Sculpture/Urban Environment”  which also included Judy Chicago’s Butterfly For Oakland, a pyrotechnic display. Together they all served as  symbols of transformation, flight, and freedom for Oakland.

Of his work, Benton said, “I try to find the best relationship of the parts I am going to use…and they aren’t arbitrary. I spend a long time—in a short time—putting these things where they ring my bell. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I go down [to my studio] and play…and I get something that’s interesting.”

For many years, M was installed in the lower level of the Garden but during the recent construction of OMCA’s grounds, the sculpture was conserved and is now reinstalled on the upper level of the Garden. When you visit, you’ll not only see this larger-than-life work but also gorgeous views of Lake Merritt and beyond.

Radical Acts Posters in the Gallery of California Art

If you’ve strolled through the Gallery of California Art, you’ve probably come across the bright wall full of Radical Acts posters. For many years, OMCA has featured community voices such as in the Radical Acts section and periodically rotates the featured works to offer more diverse voices.

This April, 15 new posters will be installed along with an interpretation  of these posters and original posters made by former Berkeley High School seniors.  

The story of this installation begins in  2019, spans through the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and is still evolving.

In early 2019, OMCA’s curators engaged past community collaborators by polling them about the themes of the 60’s and 70’s that are still relevant today. From that polling, many themes emerged but the three that came up the most were the environment, prison reform, and women’s rights.

Next, OMCA went to social media to ask followers which posters resonated with them the most and to explain why. While many visitors participated, the team ultimately wanted more voices represented so they invited a school group from Berkeley High School to a discussion on March 18, 2020. As it happened, the Museum shut-down on March 13th due to the pandemic and the project stalled.

Community engagement and involvement is crucial to the work of OMCA, so the curators revisited this project by recording a video to re-introduce the poster change-out and why OMCA wanted youth voices to be included.

In the spring of 2020, BHS teacher, Becky Villagran, showed this video to her students and asked them to research the proposed posters along with the context for which they were made. Students  were asked to create their own posters based on one of the themes that they had explored.

Then, George Floyd was murdered. Many of the students created posters to reflect their opinions about his murder and the treatment of Black people that they carriedduring local protests agaist police brutality.

Finally, two years later, the Radical Acts posters will be exchanged and a slideshow of the political posters drawn by Berkeley High School students will be on view in the Gallery of California Art. Additionally, sprinkled amidst the poster installation will be talk bubbles containing further thoughts and reactions by students about specific posters from the 60s and 70s.

To see the new Radical Acts posters and the works from Berkeley High School students, visit the Gallery of California Art.