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Buffalo Society of Artists 115th Catalogue Exhibition at UB Anderson Gallery

"Pine" by Mark Lavatelli (oil on canvas, encaustic and collage on wood, 2011).

The Art of Installation

The Buffalo Society of Artists 115th Catalogue Exhibition is being held at three locations simultaneously: the Carnegie Arts Center, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the UB Anderson Gallery.

The challenge of the installation artwork filling the Anderson’s downstairs gallery is part of an evolving consciousness on the part of curators and administrators that the art world has, in the words of Beth Pedersen, BSA’s president, “veered away from strictly painting/drawing/sculpture towards other media—that of installation, assemblage, video, photography and multi-media.” All the intricacies of exhibition development are engagingly described in the catalogue, both in the president’s message and the juror Sarah Kellner’s statement providing a compelling look behind the scenes, a kind of an anatomy of an exhibition.

In a typical artist’s installation of the present, imagery is often used both straightforwardly and as metaphor for decadence and decay. Such concerns, melancholy as they are, are often a component of broader and more urgent political issues that seek to transcend geographic boundaries and confront a larger society. An alternative approach is a more poetic, interiorized, even hermetic attitude toward art as a search for the elemental in both meaning and form. Often an artist’s flaunting of the large graffito gesture connotes violence, while others use gestural energy to convey a certain style or attitude—a sense of irony or mordant humor.

In the Anderson show, the artists chosen bring these issues considerable refinement, restored to measured significance as visual analogs of the socially conscious who, having attained a certain maturity of outlook, leave the art street harangue to younger practitioners.

Eleven artists comprise the Anderson exhibition, among them five of the award-winners, including the gold and silver medalists. Mark Lavatelli, the gold medalist, has in his art both a substantive painterly investment in realist portrayal of forest growth, wood-sourced man-made products, and the resulting environmental degradation marking the landscape and compromising the continuity of future generations, leaving them, like his collaged stick forms, swinging in the wind. “Pine,” indeed. Looking at his installation, a viewer may trace the journey he has made from painter of natural form in encaustic wax pigment to an artist who can truly be called an environmental activist.

Joan Fitzgerald, as they say in sports, “took the silver.” A working painter and teacher all her life, she has remained an artist of long-standing activist concerns, especially in promoting a feminist perspective. In her installation Fools for Love, she chronicles the underlying emotional predicaments that gave up to history such figures as Lady Godiva, Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde, King Kong, and Sitting Bull. Stylized silhouettes indicate the characteristic form of her client figures, as individual displays of talismanic articles relate to the artist’s interpretation of the circumstances that bring these famous characters to their unfortunate fates.

In the main, the artworks presented are by painters, sculptors and photographers with separate, distinct practices as visual artists. They have responded to the challenges of creating an edition of their art as installations that is equally challenging for the viewer, like a museum experience with dioramas and set-piece historical displays. For installation art to work, it must take the viewer to a different space, transport and invigorate the senses—present a unique set of visual cues to the experience and bring to the viewer a new awareness of time, place and possibility. Gary Wolfe’s piece, The Child Within, does this poignantly, dealing with the weight of years and lightness of being. Viewers are invited to sit in the tiny chairs familiar to parents of schoolchildren everywhere while engaging in a le temps perdu tableau of oversized painted portraits of children overlaid with their later adult selves—a kind of visually morphing of figures, fast-forwarding predictions from childhood to the adult self, leaving each viewer to presume the intervening years for good or ill. Setting the theme for this interaction is the wall piece, a home movie of Wolfe’s childhood: scenes of cheerful family leisure overlaid with another layer of home movie where he re-enacts the postures as an adult that he posed for as a child in a surreal palimpsest worthy of Andre Breton.

Also winning awards were BSA members Anita Easter, Paula Sciuk, and Candace Masters. The exhibit continues through January 8.

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