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Surveyor at the Albright-Knox

Millie Chen's silhouettes are based on narrative etchings of the 30 Years War from the Albright-Knox's collection.

A Sense of Place

As a creator of objects, an artist can certainly relate to the creation of landscapes. Both additions and reductions are essential to the overall landscape, just as additions and reductions are essential to an artwork’s creation. Landscapes and artworks are also similar in the way that they impact the viewer’s perspective. The surrounding environment shapes meaning; It informs the viewer of a mood, just as a theater’s every detail, from the lighting to the type of seats, establishes the mood of a performance.

When thinking about landscapes, one would not usually consider a gallery wall. However, in the context of this exhibition, it begins to make sense. “The walls are almost their own form of landscape,” says Albright-Knox curator Heather Pesanti. When describing her curating process, Pesanti sounds like a surveyor herself. “Part of curating and installation is that you have these plans, but then when you bring the works into the space you start having moments of synchronicity, and then you start to move artworks around. I will start to see connections. Or the reverse will happen if something is too didactic. If I thought something looked good in the floor plan, but then I see it and it’s too obvious, I will move it.” Pesanti understands the flexibility needed in order to survey—it can be a process that has a mind of it’s own.

Buffalo-based artist Millie Chen uses the gallery walls directly by drawing and painting on them in two rooms. Chen drew inspiration from narrative etchings about the 30 Years War from the Albright-Knox’s collection. “The 30 Years War started due to religious conflict but ended like everything—in conflict and territorial dispute” Chen explains. The first room is painted a deep red. Chen selected silhouettes of human figures in turmoil as a result of warfare from the etchings. Their white shapes are set over an ornate wallpaper pattern (chosen to reflect the Baroque time period of the original etchings). The pattern of the bodies creates a unique type of landscape, simultaneously decorative and unsettling. The drawings in the next room echo the etchings but are devoid of human figures. The billowing smoke, trees, houses, and torture devices are drawn in black against a stark white wall marked by a gray band to indicate the horizon line. Both artworks are horizontally wrapped around the perimeter at eye level, alluding to a landscape, so that the viewer can instantly compare each scene.

Bingyi Huang’s large-scale sculpted canvas oil painting, Seamlessly Lost, is hung around the perimeter of the room. Huang’s painting creates a cave-like sensation, enveloping the viewer with an image that seems abstract at first glance. However, within the dark gestural textures of oil paint are more than three thousand historical figures, strange creatures, deities, and animals. Huang explains that even though your eyes do not immediately see the figures, your body senses them. There is a clear narrative throughout the canvas, but it does not have a clear ending as the canvas culminates as a seemingly infinite scroll.

The Albright-Knox describes the exhibit like this: “…rooted in the exploration, observation, and construction of the landscape…Surveyor explores the theme of humanity’s relationship with, and fervent desire to understand, the natural world in which we live.” Even the freestanding sculptures on the ground seem to interact with the artworks around them on the walls. Each of the artworks featured in Surveyor explore the idea of landscape in different ways, using different methods. Think of each artwork in the exhibit as a different definition for the same word. The impact of this sort of exhibition is powerful in the sense that it is incredibly revealing. The very nature of landscapes and environments is revealed. Each artwork peels back another layer of the many aspects that contribute to our sense of environment. Whether these aspects can be seen or not, they can certainly be sensed.

The exhibition features the premiere of several major new acquisitions for the Gallery’s Collection, five Buffalo-based artists and rare art poetry books from the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo. Surveyor will be on view through June 5.

jill greenberg

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