The biennial kicks off with a high-wire act and a weekend of openings
The theme is “Alternating Currents,” as a comment on the artworks, no doubt, but more specifically in recollection of the invention of alternating current electricity at Niagara Falls in the 1890s.
The inaugural event is a high-wire walk by French funambulist Didier Pasquette, recollecting the most famous Niagara Falls stunt and spectacle, the high-wire walks across the gorge by the great Blondin in the 1850s. (Blondin did the walk several times, once blindfolded, once on stilts, once stopping in the middle to cook and eat an omelet.)
But beyond and above the circus aspect of the of the wire walk, Bruce Ferguson, one of the curators of the Beyond/In Western New York biennial, reminds us of the art aspect of the performance. First noting artist Paul Klee’s definitions of drawing as “a line going for a walk,” and a line as “a dot that went for a walk,” he says “Pasquette draws a single line in space, and activates it with his own body to produce a landscape drawing.”
So art is spectacle (and sometimes stunt). But more than spectacle, the idea of art is to make us see, make us think.
Pasquette’s high-wire walk is to take place tonight (Thursday) at 6:30pm, above the Liberty Building, between the statues.
As an aside, here’s something to think about right as we plummet into a national orgy of Islamophobia and Hispanophobia: the meaning of those statues of Liberty. Not so much the trite formulations—“land of the free, home of the brave,” or the fine but today hollow poetical sentiment, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”—but what the statues mean in their context. For these statues relate to a historical moment when the word “liberty” had become the universal replacement term for any pointed German reference. Sauerkraut was to be called “liberty cabbage.” It was the time of the Great War against an enemy that, if he was to be named at all, was preferably to be called “the Hun.” The great German-American bank was incorporated in Buffalo in 1882, testimony to the commercial and financial dominance in the area at the time of the mainstay German ethnic group. This was right about the time that Jacob Schoellkopf initiated generation of the first commercial electricity in Niagara Falls. Then in 1919, in the waning period of the war frenzy, the bank name was changed to Liberty Bank. With absolutely no fanfare. The actual statues were completed a few years later.
Pasquette will do a second high-wire performance Sunday (September 26) at noon at Prospect and Old Falls streets, in Niagara Falls.
Works of more than a hundred artists will be on display during Beyond/In Western New York, mostly from Western New York, including Pennsylvania and Ohio and Ontario, Canada, but also from as far away as Shanghai, China, in galleries and non-gallery sites from an old industrial building in the Cobblestone District downtown to the modern Castellani Gallery at Niagara University.
The artists were chosen by curators from a dozen area galleries under the overall direction of John Massier from Hallwalls.
All venues will open Friday (September 24), and there will be opening receptions that evening at the downtown Buffalo venues, from the Cobblestone District to Allentown, 5-11pm.
On Saturday (September 25), there will be opening receptions at the Castellani Gallery, the Carnegie Art Center, and the UB Center for the Arts, 2-6pm; at the UB Anderson Gallery and Buffalo Arts Studio, 6-10pm; and at the Big Orbit Gallery, 8pm-midnight.
On Sunday (September 26), there will be opening receptions at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, 1-2pm; at the Burchfield Penney, 2-4pm; and at the Albright-Knox, 4-8pm.
Most of the artworks will be on display into January. For dates and times and details on performances, etc., see the exhibit website: www.beyondinwny.org.
So much art, so little time: A synopsis of the venues and the artists
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Veteran area artist Sheldon Berlyn’s paintings in acrylic on canvas feature modernistic abstract-looking patterns that evoke Caravaggio and the Baroque age. In her multimedia installation, Victoria Bradbury creates characters and scenarios that hark back to the era of the magic lantern. Tom Hughes uses words in stark juxtaposition to puzzle and tease the audience to make their own sense of the possible verbal proposition. Cleveland artist Sarah Paul and Suzanne Paul have a multi-media work about Rust Belt industry and concepts of ideal femininity. Looking every bit the polar explorer, Joshua Reiman tackles the idea of the artistic sublime in a film set in Iceland.
Photographer Marshall Scheuttle has a series of works that play with our expectations about what portraits should look like. Another Cleveland artist, Randall Tiedman, paints haunting mental landscapes that have been described as “psychogeography.” German-born, New York-based artist Kai Althoff has created a surrealist circus complex in the Albright-Knox sculpture court. James Carl makes webwork sculptures from the unlikely material of Venetian blinds. Ken Cosgrove’s lino block prints display an intricacy reminiscent of Gothic cathedral rose windows, which show up prominently amid a chaos of closely packed imagery.
Richard Huntington has a series of works in oil and acrylic and charcoal often with modern art historical references. Micah Lexier’s minimalist gestural works employ arrows that point more to the function of indicating than anything actually indicated. Joan Linder does exquisite ink on paper drawings of corpses, working from life, in a manner of speaking, that is, from UB Medical School cadavers. Toronto artists Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins make sculpture in the form of mechanized billboards that, to the extent they are advertisements, advertise art. Mark Shepard has a complicated installation involving video surveillance apparatus and computers on the interaction of technology and physical and social space.
Penelope Stewart has constructed a honey-sweet-smelling wall of blocks of beeswax, some smooth, some with some raised relief topography. And you’re allowed to touch. Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy will install a number of granite boulders outside the museum that will be heated by solar panels so that they will react visibly to changing weather situations (for example, in cold weather and rain or snow, they should emit vapor clouds, cloudlets). Liz Phillips was one of the early Artpark artists. She will reprise the multi-media environmental work based on Niagara River sounds she made for Artpark in the 1970s, using technologically more sophisticated up-to-date apparatus.
Korean-born, New York-based sculptor Do Ho Suh will create a sculpture of repeating forms consisting of an improbable number of human figures seated one on the shoulders of another. The name of the piece isKarma.
Big Orbit Gallery
Toronto-based John Dickson’s piece is titled Untitled. In the recent past he has made sculptural cityscapes that seem to hover between the real and imaginary, employing, literally, literally, such artistic and political presentational accessories as smoke and mirrors.
Buffalo Arts Studio
Syracuse artist Yasser Aggour comments on the practice of big-game-hunting by taking the standard photo of the newly slain beast and proud hunter and digitally removing the hunter. Phil Hastings videographs natural elemental events and processes to “explore elements of the human condition,” as he says. TH&B is a four-artist collective of Simon Frank, Dave Hind, Ivan Jurakic, and Tor Lukasik-Foss. Their piece looks just like a swarm of bees settled on electrical transformers on a power line pole. Adam Weekley’s drawings and paintings could be illustrations for some enigmatic and askew fairy tales (his related sculptural installation is at the Castellani gallery). Megan Ehrhart does stop-motion films that venture into the land of the subconscious. Props include such items as dolls with glass eyes and “real” glass eyes, on a plate. As if, what’s for lunch.
Burchfield Penney Art Center
Many of the Burchfield Penney artists deal with architecture in one way or another. J. Bochynski’s depersonalized depictions of retail commercial architecture critique the banal uniformity of this segment of the contemporary constructed environment. Whereas artist Karen Brummund positively personalizes architecture, dressing up buildings in colors and forms applied by means of video projection. (Brummund’s piece will be a videotape of an early-bird performance she did last week, projecting on the Burchfield Penney gallery façade.) Kyle Butler’s paintings explore the matter of material strengths and breaking points under the onslaught of overwhelming forces, such as tornadoes.
Carl Lee’s video documents a more controlled form of demolition of constructed environment by bulldozing old housing stock as a phase in a cycle of build, tear down, then eventually build again. Dennis Maher makes sculptures and photo collages of chaotic arrays of building demolition materials. Jean-Michel Reed is a documentary photographer/videographer one of whose subjects is house fires as everyday events in the life of the city, but cataclysmic events for the affected residents. Julian Montague’s presentation focuses on secondary inhabitants (bugs, birds, and quadruped vermin) of the structures we also inhabit.
Also at the Burchfield Penney, the Buffalo Soundpainting Ensemble, a kind of non-linear, neo-musical group, will perform together with a full complement of dancers, actors, poets, and visual artists. The catalog write-up on Michael Beitz says his drawings are “not a Freudian exploration of dreams.” But they look like a Freudian exploration of dreams and fantasies. Jamie O’Neil/Kurt Weibers, an artist with two names, will do a performance and installation on a prospective fad item he has designed called Skippisox that he claims facilitates skipping, an ambulatory practice that sadly seems to have gone out of wide use in recent times.
Carnegie Art Center
The work of both artists at the Carnegie Art Center explores connections between electricity and spirituality. Lisa Neighbour presents indoor and outdoor sculptures that play with ideas of electricity as possibly key to connection with a spirit world. Gary Nickard’s work includes séances to contact the spirit of Topsy, the hapless elephant Thomas Edison electrocuted to demonstrate the lethal dangerousness of George Westinghouse’s alternating current. (Edison’s direct current would have been just as lethal to poor Topsy, but for the demonstration he used alternating current.)
Castellani Art Museum
Elizabeth Gemperlein’s near-future apocalyptic visionary drawings feature heroic-looking animals—a stag in one case—as if triumphant amid ruins. Toronto artist Jennifer Lefort’s paintings employ a personalized language of abstract and semi-abstract forms suggestive of identifiable items, here maybe a stuffed animal, there maybe a noose. David Mitchell is a word artist whose verbal instructions are simultaneously crystal clear and cryptic. Adam Weekley’s sculptural installation partakes of the hyper-real and the surreal, with symbolic-looking animal reminiscence items, such as, in one instance, a small array of antlers. (So works of two of the four Castellani artists feature antlers.)
Photographer and videographer Stefan Petranek’s imagery of the ordinary—footsteps in the snow—broaches exploration of the visual sublime. High-speed photos by virocode: Peter Dauria and Andrea Mancuso document such otherwise unobservable physical phenomena as the dispersal of droplets in the split instant of the popping of a water balloon. Stephanie Rothenberg and Jeff Crouse set up a virtual world/real world production process that raises issues around since the start of the Industrial Revolution about mechanization of production and related exploitation and/or elimination of actual workers.
El Museuo Francisco Oller Y Diego Rivera
Michelle Gay makes computer-based art that in one of her works takes what she calls “Trojan Horse poems,” the ostensibly non-spam words and phrases included in spam messages to allow them to escape detection as spam, and applies another program to turn them into computer-generated poetry of an arguably higher order. Shanghai artist Ying Miao’s work is based on her laborious project to discover and document the multitude of Chinese words authorities have eliminated from the language—and from Google now that Google is becoming a significant factor in the transmission of language and ideas in China—because they consider them dangerous politically, morally, culturally, etc.
Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
Christian Giroux and Daniel Young film documents an experiment in which just the electrical light source is changed in an otherwise unchanging interior space. Ben Van Dyke has described his artworks as “cryptic autobiographical rants.” Hard to decipher. See what you think. At Hallwalls, virocode will show videos along the line of their photos on display at CEPA (see above), as well videos on some of their other projects over the past few decades. Jason Bernagozzi does experimental video and computer art using customized cameras and software programs.
FASTWüRMS is an artistic collective (of witches, no less, but nice witches, from all indications) that makes and will present films and videos featuring witches and copious cats. FASTWüRMS is also installing a huge sculptural owl on the roof ledge of the First Niagara Bank at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, overlooking Main. And all in time for Halloween. Jamie O’Neil/Kurt Weibers will perform and show slides and video on his Skippisox project (see under Burchfield Penney, above). Tom Sherman will present a video on the scary proposition that the artistic avant garde has gone “country.” Sherman will also have a video on wrestling (as in acting posing as athletic endeavor) in a storefront window of COMAND Solutions (110 Elmwood Avenue).
Michael Bosworth’s video plays with ideas of imagery and the projection of images (sometimes you can’t tell what’s right side up, what’s upside down). JT Rinker’s work uses high-tech equipment and ideas (microcontrollers, television as a light source) to tell a story about a low-tech paper clippie (humble, unpretentious, double first-class lever). Bill Sack creates electronic devices that interact among themselves and with the participating audience.
Barbara Lattanzi’s piece takes an early Chinese horror film (based on Gaston Leroux’s movie Phantom of the Opera) and using a variety of “perceptual experimentation” techniques makes a 15-hour production of it. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Alan Rhodes deconstructs the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho into 52 parts that you can then rearrange like reshuffling a deck of cards. So much for privileged (narrative) linearity. And Jessica Thompson uses unusual technological apparatus and effects in a variety of audience interactive projects.
University At Buffalo Anderson Gallery
This time Barbara Lattanzi extends a 1912 silent film on the plight of the American Indian called The Invadersinto a 40-hour production. So much for narrative, linear or no. Rodney Taylor has a painting of a stand of birch trees painted in acrylic and clay that will gradually flake off the painting, mimicking natural processes of decay. Artist Kurt Van Voetsch’s drawings and performance constitute a personal and unorthodox possibly therapeutic program related to a diagnosis of cancer last year. Toronto-based Elinor Whidden has a series of photos documenting historical performance scenarios challenging Manifest Destiny. Lorraine O’Grady’s work is an expanded version, including video and an audio collage, of her 1991 photomontage, originally called The Clearing, that became extremely controversial (or extremely ignored) due to its frank exposition of its interracial relations subject matter. (It shows a white man and black woman in the act.)
University at Buffalo Art Gallery, Center For the Arts
UB Art Gallery’s exhibit on Artpark in its heyday is not technically part of Beyond/In Western New York but an appropriate adjunct to it, given the Niagara Falls focus of the regional exhibit. The UB exhibit is calledArtpark: 1974-1984.
Western New York Book Arts Center
Form predominates in Joel Brenden’s accomplished representational artwork in which the content, the meaning, purposely is left problematic. Warren Quigley’s maybe a little paranoid, maybe a little ironic sculpture with readymades presents a survival strategy for artists, complete with army surplus outfit and gear. Rochester book artist Scott McCarney presents a number of works from hisEncyclopornia series.
Bruce Adams’ paintings at the Starlight Studio and Art Gallery (340 Delaware Avenue, across Delaware from Asbury Hall and Hallwalls) recall Caravaggio again, in terms of both religious tradition subject matter and style (in both cases updated and ironized).
Kim Adams’ piece, for night-time viewing, is a Ford van pierced with a zillion holes in random patterns and illuminated from the inside. It will be at various locations.
Jeremy Bailey does futuristic-looking performances that may be intended to let some of the gas out of the hot air balloon of high-tech. His performances will be given at various places.
Blake Carrington’s performance featuring visuals of the architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals will be given, appropriately, at Asbury Hall.
Millie Chen’s video based on historical accounts of visitors to the Lafayette Hotel when it was a grand lady will be projected in the hotel’s large, ground-floor display windows from dusk to dawn.
Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood’s confectionary and pastry versions of some local architectural treasures will be shown at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. This artwork is not for eating, but over the course of the exhibit will be will deteriorate much like the architecture itself is deteriorating, but at a faster rate.
Jody Hanson will do liquid light projections onto storefront windows at the new M&T Building (285 Delaware Avenue, between Tupper and Chippewa).
Nina Leo will set up her low-tech sonic detection apparatus in front of the downtown library and aim it down Court Street at City Hall.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn artistic team of (Bradley) McCallum & (Jacqueline) Tarry will display paintings largely based on photographic imagery from the local African-American community newspaper The Challenger in the City Hall observation deck.
Buffalo artistic collaborative Reactionary Ensemble’s improvisational audio/video performance will be presented at various locations.
Ontario-based sculptor Reinhard Reitzenstein’s installation at the corner of Smith and Exchange streets is a steel arch that puns verbally and visually on arc in an electrical sense.
Alex Young’s installation, in various locations, consists of banners that hark back to the utopian vision of King Camp Gillette, inventor of the safety razor, to locate the entire population of the United States in Western New York in a high-rise mega-city structure that would be powered by Niagara Falls.