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Oakland Museum of California

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This weekend the Oakland Museum re-opened after a two year hiatus, during which the place underwent renovation. The weekend’s events – music, dancing, even a professional whistler – were free, including entrance to the exhibits.

I don’t remember every detail of the old museum; I have vague memories of a redwood tree stump and charts of the Pacific Ocean’s temperature and tidal behavior. It used to take an hour, tops, to go through the history of California, the museum’s primary focus – and it was a boring hour.

They’ve done such a fabulous turn-around you’d hardly recognize the old museum. Architecturally it’s a whole different creature, with three outdoor levels of balconies and patios partially overlooking Lake Merritt. Inside, there’s so much to look at, I didn’t get to even half of it. The History room is absolutely fantastic, with exhibits of the Gold Rush and other significant California events, and videos of early emigrés with their recorded stories.

To get to the 1960s section you walk down a long corridor with a light show playing on the wall. The corridor leads to a space with diorama-like arrangements of mementoes; apparently people from various segments of the population  contributed these. When we first entered the area, my son, who was six during the 60s and loved it, said longingly, “Can we stay in here?” Several other visitors laughed knowingly: the atmosphere of the space is so authentic, we all wanted to stay there.

Peering into each glass-encased exhibit was like looking at different kinds of dollhouses. Each illustrates some segment of 1960s California politics or culture: the Black Panthers, the Grateful Dead, the women’s movement, the CA Peace Council. I didn’t take notes, so I’m unable to provide more details that would do justice to these artful arrangements. You simply have to go yourself. Take my word: it’s worth seeing.

By the time we left the History section, I was too tired to hit the art gallery. I’m planning to go back again soon to see the art and re-visit California history. There’s a lot I didn’t catch, either at the time or in the museum.


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