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MCAM honors Patti Smith’s legacy

Smith's albums line the walls of the Mills College Art Museum. (Nora Roth)
Smith’s albums line the walls of the Mills College Art Museum. (Nora Roth)

This semester, the Mills College Art Museum combines its expansive collection of works by Patti Smith – legendary artist, musician, poet and author – with performances and installations dedicated to Bay Area artist and visionary Anna Halprin.

On Sept. 14, the museum welcomed members of Mills and the Bay Area community to its newest exhibition, entitled Root Connection: 20 Years of the Patti Smith Collection + The 96th Ritual (For Anna Halprin). Smith and Halprin’s collections are both distinctly reflective of some of Mills’ core values, like curiosity, courage and risk-taking.

Attendees, including local art collector Victor Landweber, were enchanted by the range of Smith’s unusual short films that played in the Art Museum’s screening room, while others perched themselves at one of three viewing stations, which broadcasted different performance pieces from “95 Rituals” just outside.

“I admire their power of raw expression. They have this ability to just put it all out there,” Landweber said.

The Patti Smith Collection includes rare materials from the multi-talented and notoriously eccentric Smith. Smith’s publications, photographs, recordings, films and ephemera were gifted to Mills by library employee Robert Byler. Works from the collection are spread out from the Art Museum to the Heller Rare Book Room, as well as the small Book Art gallery in the CPM building.

Some visitors had never heard of Smith, and some were long-time followers of her life and works. The collection’s breadth is its greatest asset, offering something for every person to enjoy.

“I’ve always been really intrigued by Patti Smith, and wanted to see her original photography,” Mills College undergraduate Walker Guinee said, as she considered an arrangement of black-and-white portraits.

Community members appreciate MCAM's tributes to Smith. (Nora Roth)
Community members appreciate MCAM’s tributes to Smith. (Nora Roth)

The pinnacle of the event was the rendering of “Drowning Man,” a performance piece created and performed by Shinichi Iova-Koga and Edward Shocker. Their work is an homage to “95 Rituals,” a collective production of performance art pieces created by the Bay Area theatre and dance collective, inkBoat. “95 Rituals” was first performed on Halprin’s 95th birthday, in celebration of her noteworthy contributions to the world of performance art. The 96th Ritual, “Drowning Man” explored both the physicality and sound of water through dramatic movement, creation of sound with water and ordinary objects, and an undecipherable lyrical element, gurgled through a mouth full of water. Like most performance art, it is something you have to see in order to understand, but its poignant commentary on the world’s most precious resource spoke to many of the guests in attendance.

Guests who had come with no expectations were the most jarred by the strange drama. Local resident Patrick Sasaki left the abstract performance with a powerful message in mind: “Water is life, water is death.”

“I didn’t know what I was walking into. I’m from the neighborhood,” Sasaki said.

Starting Oct. 12, new performances, interactive tours, readings and installations will be available to Mills students and the surrounding community. More information on current and upcoming special events is available at, and students are highly encouraged to explore all of the remarkable works that are scattered around campus.

*To view more photos from this exhibit, click here to see our Flickr album.