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UB art faculty show at Anderson Gallery

"Cream" by George Hughes.
An excerpt from Stephanie Rothenberg with Dan S. Wang's "The Journey West: Motivational Chants."


Ever worry about the apparent imbalance of global trade? How we as a nation seem to import so much more than we export? One art project in the Visual Epistemologies exhibit of works by UB art faculty members at the Anderson Gallery is doing its part to redress the imbalance. Or alternatively, demonstrate that it’s not a problem. That it actually is a balance. That we are exporting as much as we import. We import a lot of junk goods, but we export an equal measure of Western ideology. Of dog-eat-dog material values. Capitalism over all.

The art project, by Stephanie Rothenberg with Dan S. Wang, set up a venue in Beijing, China, where the artists composed worker motivational chants that they then, via impromptu street rallies, complete with bullhorn, got volunteer passersby to recite in chorus. The results are on video. Some of the chants: “Once upon a time we were lost in the world, blinded by education, unable to see the radiance of the coins,” and “We henceforth swear…that we shall never give up our longing for material and power…”

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy about the key concern, knowledge. Asking questions like how do we know what we know? And how do we know what we know is true? How all the works related to this theme is another good question.

One that does relate to the theme (and in the best philosophical tradition, by posing questions but not answering them) is a tabletop installation by Joan Lindner of her personal accumulation of undiscarded mail and the like, including letters with good news and bad, bills, dental checkup notices, and advertisements, from several years back. Even a railroad timetable. Until on closer look, you see that each of the items is not quite what it seems, but a facsimile, meticulously hand-lettered in precise imitation (only that you can tell) of the original (supposed) exact words, and hand-drawn where there was art, that is, ornamentation or illustration. The most interesting item among the pile is a $600 stimulus check from the US Treasury (not an income tax rebate check) of the sort one vaguely recalls they gave away a couple of years ago (no doubt basically in an effort to whittle down that pesky federal surplus that was a stumbling block to chopping social benefit programs).

Adele Henderson has a huge map of the world heavily hand-annotated with a plethora of socioeconomic information, and five accompanying metaphorical maps in globe form, including a kind of phrenological example, but with garden plots and urban and facilities planning designs in place of the usual brain segments; one with socioeconomic and psychological references in one hemisphere, the other side a dark side, all black; a Korean War reference map; a Dante’s Inferno map; and finally, a totally black globe. The piece is called How I Stopped Worrying…

Sylvia Berlanger’s piece is called Les fins de l’image, and it is a video picture book with some written and some aural text comprising a dialogue basically, it seems, about the impossibility of dialogue.

Many more art faculty members, many more artworks, including Steven J. Kurtz’s rather inert display of activist group Critical Art Ensemble pamphlets and other written materials under glass, and some wall posters; a pastiche video by Megan Michalak with barely audible sound, possibly about aspects of the historical confrontation of capitalism and Communism; George O. Hughes’ huge canvas à la James Rosenquist and a handful of abstract expressionists, depicting an ice cream cone, a kind of painterly car wreck, and a pig, among other imagery; and a somewhat precious sculptural assemblage by Reinhard Reitzenstein consisting of a “gilded beaver chew,” a stick of tree branch or trunk conspicuously chewed by a beaver at both ends, and more subtly along its whole length, to remove the bark, and gilded, and a beaver skull, with impressive upper and lower incisors, resting on a little embroidered pillow with corner tassels.

What holds the whole exhibit together? Not so much the proclaimed theme as a work by Benjamin Van Dyke with its unidentified-mechanism-gone-awry black bands and wires that reach out into observer space and across white wall space up and into the similarly black lighting track near the ceiling, parallel to the ceiling around the entire gallery space.

The Visual Epistemologies exhibit continues through October 23.

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