Visual arts: destination-worthy

Visual arts: destination-worthy
By Bruce Adams


Man With Dog
Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, part of the Bacon
show upcoming at the Albright-Knox

There it was in black and white. June, 2006, AmericanStyle magazine:Buffalo is the top art destination among mid-sized cities. Number one. In the country. Up from twenty-third place in 2005.

Gas up the Chevy, grab the kids, the Queen City awaits.

It’s not surprising that we knocked New Orleans out of the top spot in this year’s online poll. But moving up twenty-two places? That’s astounding. And not just best art city; best art “destination.” Am I the only one who failed to notice the surge in tourism over the past year as people flocked in record numbers to view art in Buffalo?

Of course what this really means is that more of us voted for our city than other mid-sized city residents voted for theirs. No small thing, really. It demonstrates the capacity of our art community to rally around a cause, no matter how trivial, and Buffalo’s justifiable pride in its very real achievements.

So what, you may wonder, does the number one mid-sized art destination in the nation have in store for the coming season? Here are some anticipated highlights:

The Mudman cometh. Kim Jones is best known for covering his near naked body with mud and donning a primitive headdress and crude stick exoskeleton, transforming himself into the elemental creature known as Mudman. His visceral, sometimes disturbing public performances have led to international acclaim, but Jones also creates equally notable drawings, sculptures, and installations.

Linda Benglis
Works by Linda Benglis are on view at the
Nina Freudenheim Gallery this month.

The genesis of much of Jones’s work can be traced to two defining events in his life: a crippling polio-like childhood illness, and a stint as a Marine in the Vietnam War. His artwork—which addresses themes of conflict, violence, confinement, and catharsis—often incorporates obsessive, ritualistic elements including frequent reworking of existing artwork and thematic motifs that reoccur over many years.

Kim Jones: A Retrospective opens October 19 at the UB Art Gallery on the University of Buffalo Amherst campus. This first-ever full-blown review of Jones’s more than thirty-year career will include photo-documentation of the artist’s work, and two large-scale site-specific installations. I recommend attending the opening reception when the artist will be present.

The Albright-Knox mixes it up. After a series of cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions, the venerable institution is stirring a couple of celebrated names into the exhibition stew this season. On view until October 22 are the self-portraits of renowned portrait artist and perennial crowd pleaser, Chuck Close. Spanning from 1967 to 2005, these works document the artist’s changing appearance, and more significantly reveal the mindset within the artist’s blankly staring countenance.

Close focuses exclusively on the human face to systematically explore an array of technical processes. Aside from such expected media as oil, acrylic, charcoal, and graphite, Close employs large scale Polaroids, paper pulp, ink, holography, ink jet prints, conte crayon, and silk tapestry among others. Close’s likeness provides a constant departure point from which the artist conducts these methodological experiments.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones’ work is one view at the
UB Art Gallery starting Oct. 19.

Many of the works in the show are based on the grid process of converting photographic images into other media. Early on, the result was dramatic sixties-style photo-realist works in which facial idiosyncrasies were blown up to monumental, sometimes frightening, proportions. The iconic Big Self-Portrait is one such work. In later years, a spinal cord injury necessitated that Close develop another approach. Still employing the grid, the artist substituted colorful loops and daubs for faithful exactitude. These latter works often border on total abstraction, particularly when seen up close, an effect roughly akin to viewing a face through a shower door. Though the results are often emotionally remote, even academic, Close’s process-based approach and often-monumental scale frequently prompt awed responses from appreciative audiences.

Then, beginning May 4, comes Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, featuring works by the widely admired enigmatic artist known for his often grotesque or disturbing expressionistic paintings: screaming heads, snarling chimpanzees, popes; things like that. This intriguing little Nightmare on Elmwood will focus on Bacon’s formative early works, considered by many to be the most powerful and fascinating of the artist’s career. Though lacking some of Bacon’s later technical prowess, they compensate with rawness and urgency. The forty-one paintings and related documentary materials constitute the first exhibition of Bacon’s early work to circulate in the United States. Whatever you think about Bacon, this exhibition merits attention.

Picture this. CEPA kicks off the season on September 29 with Deviant Bodies 2.0, a follow-up to its critically acclaimed 2004 exhibition, Deviant Bodies. This extensive exhibition will look at “transgender, genderqueer, and gender variant” people from perspectives not usually represented in the popular media, lending a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Curtain Up!” (which occurs the same evening as the exhibition’s opening).

CEPA closes its season in June with a retrospective of famed photographer Ken Heyman in conjunction with the Albright-Knox, which will present a concurrent exhibition of the artist’s work. Heyman, who is renowned for his twenty-year collaboration with the anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead and his work for Lifemagazine, is also known for his remarkable experimental images, including Hip Shots, in which he literally shoots from the hip to produce often-stunning candid images. Both exhibitions promise their own brand of excitement.

Halls, walls, and alternative architecture. Hallwalls begins its first full season in the newly renovated Church on Delaware Avenue. Perhaps coincidentally, many of the upcoming exhibitions—which curator John Massier must have planned as he adjusted to the new surroundings—revolve around themes of architecture and environment. BARTOW + METZGAR (September 16) create eclectic sprawling installations that address issues of “illegitimate architecture” through which “space is simultaneously created and disrupted.” Whatever that means, it should be big, colorful, and thought-provoking. Eric Brown (November 18) currently works with salvaged material incorporating the fundamental forms of architecture and design. He’ll be creating an original sculptural installation using Buffalo architecture as visual inspiration.

The year of anniversaries. If Hallwalls underscores architecture this season, for the Burchfield-Penney Art Center this is the year of the anniversary, with no less than three Western New York milestones marked with exhibitions. Having just completed the seventy-fifth anniversary exhibition of the founding of the Art Institute of Buffalo, the BPAC launches into Squeaky Wheel’s twentieth anniversary beginning October 21. Buffalo’s most important film, video, computer, and audio artists—including former residents Chris Hill, Julie Zando, Brian Springer, Armin Heurich, and Robert Rayher; and current residents Tony Conrad and Eric Jensen—founded Squeaky Wheel in 1986. The exhibition celebrating this event will include screenings, video interviews, and archival material. Starting November 4, the museum celebrates its own fortieth anniversary with selected works from its premiere exhibition, and historic documentation of the dedication ceremony.

Installation sensation. In recent years Big Orbit has established a reputation for mounting some of the most ambitious installations in or out of Western New York. So while the gallery’s lineup includes enticing painting and sculpture exhibitions, for pure visceral impact my money is on The Island, a site-specific 8-channel video installation with sound by Korean artist Insoon Ha, beginning April 28.

More to see. Two commercial galleries regularly deliver outstanding shows. The venerable Nina Freudenheim Gallery continues to feature notable national artists like Linda Benglis and Warren Isenee (October 28). Isenee’s vibrantly cheerful geometric abstractions smack of sixties modernism with a pop aesthetic.

A bit north. The Castellani Gallery on the campus of Niagara University mixes national, regional, and folk art. A standout for the coming season is the inflatable art of Max Streicher, opening April 6. Streicher’s often-monumental inflated figures are at once fun and vaguely disturbing, making a big impression. Worth the drive. Even further north, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) often merits a special trip to Toronto. This year, for fans of the iconic landscape photographs of Ansel Adams, an exhibition begins November 18 that pairs these images with many lesser known works from the 1920s through the 70s.

Bruce Adams is an artist, educator, and writer living in Buffalo.