The demise of Mama Buzz Cafe caused some sadness and dismay among Art Murmur regulars: hipsters are sentimental, too, beneath their gruff, porkpie-hatted exteriors. Strategically located at Telegraph Avenue and 23rd Street, this founding member of Murmur was a local institution, so hail and farewell, and thanks for all the breakfast bagels. And long live the Telegraph Cafe, when it opens. Other changes to the East Bay art scene have been unambiguously positive: the guided tours of the Saturday Stroll program, 1-5 p.m. every Saturday (OaklandArtMurmur.org) have brought new faces and energy to the area; 25th Street is filling up with new galleries and related businesses; a new incarnation of the Parkway Theater — dubbed the New Parkway, of course — will be opening on 24th Street this fall; and the artwork and artists continue to develop and mature.
While the area is blessed with art-friendly cafes, pop-up galleries/stores, appointment-only and mixed-use spaces, nonprofit art centers, art schools and art museums, it is the commercial galleries that determine the economic viability of an art scene. The fourteen Oakland and Berkeley venues listed below consistently offer the best, most creative exhibits, and should be on any local or visiting art maven's map; several of them participate in regional, national, and international art fairs. Consider signing up for email updates so that you're kept apprised. Several of the galleries are available for rental as well, if you're looking.
Located near Mama Buzz at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 23rd Street — at the trademark chrome searchlight — is Johansson Projects (2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-444-9140, JohanssonProjects.com), Kimberly Johansson's distinctively arcaded and grass-ceilinged gallery, featuring a mixture of traditional and new art media, raging from eccentric and whimsical drawings and carvings to beautifully crafted sculptures and installations.
Now comfortably ensconced in the front of the former Esteban Sabar Gallery space after moving from West Grand Avenue, Chandra Cerrito Contemporary (480 23rd St., Oakland, 510-260-7494, ChandraCerritoContemporary.com) continues to showcase a range of contemporary art ranging from conceptual photography and drawings to sculpture and installations. Cerrito is an independent art consultant as well as a gallerist. In the back of the same brick building, accessible via the parking lot, is Krowswork (480 23rd St., Oakland, 510-229-7035, Krowswork.com), Jasmine Moorhead's photography and video gallery. The conceptually oriented shows feature two to five artists, with photos shown in the main room and the corridors outside the black-curtained Project Space and Pew Room, named for its recycled church seating.
On 25th Street between Telegraph and Broadway is Oakland's version of 49 Geary Street in San Francisco — a complex of galleries that makes for easy spectatorship. Mercury 20 Gallery (475 25th St., Oakland, 510-701-4620, MercuryTwenty.com) is a co-operative gallery with around twenty members that transcends the usual co-op mishmash with professional-looking shows, nicely installed. Two artists have solo shows in the front part of the gallery, while the other gallery members show en masse in the back, in curated, cohesive group shows. Next door are PHOTO (473 25th St., Oakland, PhotoGalleryOakland.com), the newly expanded gallery owned by photographers Irene Imfeld and Henry Bowles, which features solo shows of contemporary photography, both film and digital, on traditional themes; Manna Gallery (473 25th St., Oakland, 510-282-2335, MannaGallery.com) a small co-op gallery, shows paintings, collages and sculptures by its five member artists, and may be expanding its programming — stay tuned; Roscoe Ceramic Gallery (473 25th St., Oakland, 415-515-3174, RoscoeCeramicGallery.com) is a little jewel of a gallery, often featuring humorous or satirical sculpture; it's also the studio of gallerist and ceramicist Derik Van Beers, whom you might catch at work on the wheel; and Slate Contemporary Gallery (473 25th St., Oakland, 510-652-4085, SlateArtandDesign.com) Danielle Fox's gallery, showing figurative but semi-abstract paintings, prints, and photos, relocated from Temescal. Also located on the ground floor, but boasting a large second-floor space, is Vessel Gallery (471 25th St., Oakland, 510-893-8800, Vessel-Gallery.com), a former industrial space that has been renovated to display art cleanly while preserving the building's historical character; a couple of recent site-specific installation shows that Lonnie Lee scheduled (and helped install) have made spectacular use of the nave-like interior.
A couple of blocks north lies Studio Quercus (385 26th St., Oakland, 510-452-4670, StudioQuercus.com), an artist-run space — and a labor of love and sweat equity. The shows are often thematic and immersive, necessitating construction and repainting. Kudos go to Susan Casentini, Kyle Milligan, Tim and Susan Sharman, and their band of friendly fanatics, for efforts beyond the call. A couple more Oakland galleries lie outside the Murmur core area. Just south of Jack London Square, near the bay, is Swarm Gallery (560 2nd St., 510-839-2787, swarmgallery.com), Svea Lin Soll's exhibition and workspace complex, featuring drawings, collages, photos, sculptures, and installations, most from local artists. A bit north on San Pablo is another studio/gallery hybrid, The COMPOUND Gallery (1167 65th St., Oakland, 510-601-1702, TheCompoundGallery.com), an industrial building rehabbed by Lena and Matt Reynoso, who relocated from a smaller space on San Pablo a few years ago; besides the gallery shows, which sometimes feature in-house studio artists, Compound has an art-subscription program.
Finally, two notable galleries are situated in Berkeley. Mythos Fine Art & Artifacts (1747 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-528-4291, MythosFineArt.com) has an unusual mission: showing, largely, older artists, many with a Berkeley connection; Sue Steel's antique-filled storefront space may be no traditional white cube, but aficionados of art and poetry will settle right in. Just shy of where the hills start, eastward, is Traywick Contemporary (895 Colusa Ave., Berkeley, 510-527-1214, Traywick.com), now celebrating its fifteenth year; showcasing midcareer contemporary artists, the gallery is located in a modern private residence, making for more relaxed viewing.