Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

Berkeley Art Museum. First Impressions: Free First Thursdays: Check out a world of art and film with free entry to the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive each month. Thursdays, 11 a.m. Free. "Matrix 215: Althea Thauberger A Memory Lasts Forever": The photography and video installations from the Vancouver artist address popular culture, teen angst, and the role gender plays in forming identity. Through April 10. Free with museum admission, free-$8. "Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens": The traveling exhibition spotlights Rubens' tremendous output of oil sketches with 35 sketches from the 17th century. Through May 15. Free-$10. "Blind at the Museum": An exhibition that investigates the nature of blindness, optical phenomena, and enjoying the visual arts despite vision problems. Through July 24. Free-$8. "Matrix 214: The Absence of Mark Manders": An exhibition of Netherlands-based artist Mark Manders' curious sculptures and installations. Through April 10. Free with museum admission, free-$8. 2626 Bancroft (at Telegraph), Berkeley, 510-642-0808.

Cable Car Museum. Permanent Exhibit: Located in a historic cable car powerhouse, the museum displays a variety of cable car gear, historic photographs, installations explaining how the cars work, and several antique vehicles. Daily. Free. 1201 Mason (at Washington), 474-1887.

California Academy of Sciences. "Astrobiology: Life in the Extreme": A permanent exhibition that explores the types of environments in the universe that could support life. Daily. 875 Howard (at Fifth St.), 750-7145,

California Historical Society Museum. "Poetry and Its Arts: Bay Area Interactions 1954-2004": An exhibition that traces the connections between poetry and the visual arts, with art by poets and art that focuses on poetry. Through April 16. Free-$3. 678 Mission (at Third St.), 357-1848.

California State Building Auditorium. "Sacred Lands, Sacred Traditions: The Arts of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas": Discover the vibrant arts of Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Himalayas in this lecture series with the Asian Art Museum's curator. Fridays, 10 a.m. Continues through April 29. $100-125 for series; $11 per lecture. 350 McAllister (at Larkin), 581-3701.

Cartoon Art Museum. "Small Press Spotlight Featuring Garret Izumi": A retrospective of over ten years of Izumi's career as a self-publisher of photography books, comics, and letterpress books. Through April 16. Free with museum admission, free-$6. "Contemporary Literary Comics: Selections From McSweeney's #13": An exhibition of comics work from 25 artists whose illustrations have appeared in the pages of the quarterly. Through May 22. 655 Mission (at New Montgomery), 227-8666,

Chabot Space & Science Center. "Mirror Mirror": Thirty-plus interactive exhibits from the Swiss science museum Technorama explore the properties of the looking glass. Through June 6. Free with museum admission, $9-13. "One Giant Leap: A Moon Odyssey": Take a simulated moon-walk, try on a space helmet, climb into a space capsule, and virtually land a lunar module in this exhibit. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-13. "Astronomy in California 1850-1950: Telescope Makers, Telescopes, and Artifacts": Take a look at California's rich history in astronomy with this display of telescopes, astronomy history documents, and other ephemera. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-13. "Skywise -- Astronomy Cartoon Exhibit": Help your child understand that vastness and majesty of space with this exhibit of astronomy comic strips. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-13. "Destination Universe": Take a virtual journey from the sun to the end of the cosmos with exhibits on nebulae, space travel, black holes, and moving galaxies. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-13. "Mars Encounter": The National Aeuronautics and Space Administration sponsors this exhibit on travel to Mars, which includes data on current and past missions, a giant tactile Mars globe, and martian meteorites. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-13. 10000 Skyline (at Joaquin Miller) (Joaquin Miller Park), Oakland, 510-336-7300.

Chinese Culture Center. "Celebrating Spring: The Chinese Folk Art Way": Explore the objects that help the Chinese people welcome spring each year. Through May 1. Free. 750 Kearny (at Washington) (Third Fl.), 986-1822.

Exploratorium. "Traits of Life": A major exhibition area with 30 biology exhibits and demonstrations that help visitors understand the fundamental elements common to all living things from humans to amoebas. Daily. Free with museum admission. 3601 Lyon (at Marina), 397-5673,

The Holocaust Center of Northern California. " Holocaust Center of Northern California": The newly opened center's first exhibit showcases its facilities, including a library with more than 15,000 historical volumes, a reading room for screening documentaries and holding educational talks, and ongoing displays of the center's thousands of photographs and artifacts. Tuesdays, Thursdays, 1-6 p.m.; Mondays, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. free. 121 Steuart (at Mission), 777-9060,

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. "On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West": An exhibit that spotlights the artistic reaction of Chinese artists to Western aesthetics and politics. Through May 1. Free. Lomita and Museum (Stanford campus), Stanford, 650-723-4177.

Judah L. Magnes Museum. "The People and the Book: Paintings and Rare Books From the Museum's Collection": An exhibition of works dating from the 19th to the 20th centuries and depicting people who write, read, or study from books. Through July 3. Free with museum admission, $4-6. "Sephardic Horizons": An exhibition of ephemera collected from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures of the Iberian Peninsula during the 14th through the 18th centuries. Through July 15. 2911 Russell (at Pine), Berkeley, 510-549-6950.

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