Sunday, August 16, 2009

Albright-Knox Museum

Besides the obvious attractions, one of the main highlights for me in Buffalo, New York is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Really more a first-class museum than a gallery, it was first opened in 1862 it's "one of the oldest public arts institutions in the U.S." and is a habitual stop-in whenever I revisit that neck of the woods.

Their tag line is "Experience the Unexpected," and every visit has yielded just that: even shows that I normally wouldn't be interested in seeing have been artistically rewarding, which is a meta-lesson I try to remember for myself, to teach, and apply across the board to all creative mediums in all venues - one never knows where the next inspiration will come from and there's no sense in denying any potential opportunity wherever, whenever and whatever form it may take.
Case in point being the permanent collection at the Albright-Knox, which is comprised of a core of modern and contemporary works, in particular Abstract Expressionism (pieces by Pollock, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Gorky for example), an extensive display of Modernism (Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir, Matisse, Seurat, Miro, Dali, Chagall etc.) and Pop (works by Dine, Lictenstein, Warhol and others).

There were several new exhibitions on view for this particular trip: "WALL ROCKETS: Contemporary Artists and Ed Ruscha" was one that included the above surreal installation by Robert Therrien ("Folding Chairs" 2006). The show featured paintings, prints, drawings and photography by Ed Rusha and related pieces from friends and contemporaries that were influenced by his work. One strong theme throughout the show was the conceptual usage of image + text. I scored some very cool official Jenny Holzer pencils, which were about the only things I could afford in the gift shop, of some provocative quotes and key phrases printed out on the pencils.

Another exhibit was titled "Bad Habits," and was culled from the Albright-Knox permanent collection and organized by Curator Heather Pesanti. Pictured above are several stills from Matthew Barney's "The Cremaster Cycle" (1994 - 2002), and other featured artists such as Janine Antoni, Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Cecily Brown, Robert Colescott, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jeanne Dunning, Gilbert & George, David Hammons, Nikki S. Lee, Cathy de Monchaux, Shirin Neshat, Kiki Seror, Jeff Wall and Andro Wekua. The show
"...highlights an important strain of contemporary art focusing on compulsion, perversion, eroticism, anger, greed, trickery, and other vices associated with the underbelly of human existence."
This was another great example of "Expecting the Unexpected" as moving from floor to floor, hall to hall and room to room between the different exhibits and individual pieces was a creative blitz on my senses. Firsthand experience of original works is always priceless, and the juxtaposition of content at this institution made for quite the immersion in possibilities. Quiet time is always required during and afterwards with my sketchbook to note the range of impressions and ideas that are uncorked over the course of an afternoon spent viewing art.

Fortunately this year's outing was a much more enjoyable experience than the last time I had dropped in; I hung out for about five hours, sketching and getting inspired by the works. Unfortunately the experience was somewhat overshadowed by the constant surveillance of a small army of security guards who were intrusive and obvious in their shadowing - after several hours of openly walking around with a pen & sketchbook one decided to confront me about the "no pens, only pencils" rule that I was ignorant about, and he became quite belligerent and confrontational (I assume by now he has a job with Homeland Security). Given the gallery's current financial woes which have forced the doors to close an additional day per week now: paying $12 to feel like you're a potential art vandal gets old after the first hour, and an atmosphere of intimidation isn't exactly conducive to fostering a learning experience. But this trip it seemed scaled back enough to accommodate intimacy with the works and I remembered to stick with pencils.

Even in places you'd never think to see a first-class institution like this one, that boasts some of the highest caliber works by the greatest artists ever, there are often surprising opportunities that are well worth visiting and supporting - the Albright-Knox is a premiere museum tucked away in Western New York, a cultural pinnacle in that region.
That, and Buffalo chicken wings, Genesee Cream Ale and Mallo Cups.

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