Seeking Out Quality Contemporary Art Volume 1
Cecile Moochnek Gallery
The current art scene in Oakland is beginning to get the attention it deserves (Not enough of course--Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' show Oakland: East Side Story is just a beginning,) but I asked myself: What about Berkeley? What gem of a gallery is hiding in Berkeley town, a gallery that may be a happy medium between the more established (and expensive) San Francisco galleries and the hip new galleries in Oakland? On a rainy day in post-Christmas gloom, I braved the nasty weather and holiday hang-over to answer this very question. After much searching, I stumbled onto Fourth street, abuzz with people exchanging gifts or generally milling about in the trendy shops despite adverse weather conditions. The Cecile Moochnek Gallery is on the second floor above Hear Music, located in a district close to the Bay, the Aquatic Park, and the beauteous Marina.
For over twelve years Moochnek has been hanging the work of local Bay area artists with taste and care. During my visit The Cecile Moochnek Gallery was home to a well balanced show (running Nov. 17 through Jan. 7, 2007) displaying works by over 15 artists, using media that range from encaustic, gypsum, intaglio prints, and sculpture made of concrete, ceramic, and fabric. Despite the wide range of artists and materials, there is a grounding continuity to the show that is aesthetically pleasing. Upon first glance the collection appeals to modernist sensitivities: the love of the orthogonal--the 90 degree angle, or square--and geometric, precise compositions; simplicity; abstraction; and the emphasis on material. All are dominant motifs that run throughout the show. However, closer inspection reveals that the works go well beyond modernist clichés; the artwork is unique and contemporary, drawing upon modernist inspiration to comment on current situations.
Speaking of experiencing art, I'd like to give the reader a small taste of the artworks one might encounter at the gallery. One of the artists that Moochnek represents is Judith Williams, whose series in encaustic and mixed media on panel exemplify the artistic sensibilities of the gallery. Her paintings are comprised of multiple translucent layers that impart an exquisite dreamlike quality. The artist is sparing with her brush strokes, describing objects as succinctly as possible. Her series deals with interiors and the ceremonial aspects of drinking tea as inspired by her recent visit to Japan. The paintings exude a feminine warmth due to the gentle pastel colors, the soft brush strokes, the collaged patterning that resembles dress material, and the domestic space she depicts. Her collaged elements are sparse and carefully planed, seamlessly blending into the painting. Williams uniquely expresses the themes that run throughout the gallery: simplicity, geometric compositions that nevertheless contain organically flowing elements, and sensitivity to symmetry and balance.
Indeed, Cecile related her interest in Zen Buddhism and how it informs the gallery's organization and content. Additionally, the gallery represents many local Asian artists, who oftentimes display unique and minimal sensibilities, including Seiko Tachibana. One of Tachibana's intaglio pieces called Scene of Memory 4 was especially intriguing. Seemingly erratic marks march across the horizontal lines running across this long composition, reading almost like music or an abstract and rapturous landscape. In actuality, intaglio is a form of printmaking which is very precise, so Tachibana's lyrical marks, reminiscent of Sumi brush strokes, are just as thoughtfully chosen as her uncommon pallet.
Carol Lee Shanks
Here's my favorite aspect of the Moochnek Gallery, even more pleasing than the Zen-like simplicity of the gallery space echoed in all of the work on the walls: part of the Moochnek Gallery's progressivism is the amount of female artists the gallery represents. So many galleries and museums disproportionately focus on male artists, and it is an important statement that the Moochnek Gallery makes in supporting female artists. The Gallery is a space charged with positive energy: it is warm, intimate, and inviting to artists and audiences dealing with the issues of contemporary life, including the female experience. My recommendation for a hot date: pick a Sunday to visit the Berkeley Marina and rent a kite, go to a free Sake tasting at Takara brewery at 708 Addison, then mosey on over to the Cecile Moochnek Gallery and hobnob. It will be worth it, and you just might impress your partner who is always complaining you two never do anything.
-- Rachel S Rosen
Rachel is an artist, freelance writer and educator in the Bay Area.
Many of the works by artists mentioned in this article can be purchased from
Cecile Moochnek Gallery.
Cecile Moochnek Gallery
1809D Fourth St. (upstairs)
Berkeley, CA 94710
hours: 12-5pm, Wednesday-Sunday
Cecile Moochnek also offers eight-week long creative writing classes (see website for more information).
Images appear courtesy of Mel Davis, Judith Williams, Carol Lee Shanks and Cecile Moochnek Gallery, Berkeley, CA.
All photos by Rachel S Rosen except Bejahung #3 photographed by Mel Davis.