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The Decade: Contemporary Collection 2002-2012 exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is really 10 different exhibits, any two or three of which could adequately occupy a visit to the museum. With useful if sometimes somewhat pedestrian titles like “Shape of Space” and “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” sometimes more intriguing titles like “The Wayward Line,” and “What Happened to Painting?”

Duets of Land and Sky

In the post-post-modern pantheon generally, artists have shied away from classical iconography, delivering ironic rhetorical commentary rather than philosophical reflection. Formalist tradition painters, solitary champions of an aesthetic legacy emphasizing the mythic, heroic virtues of classical art—especially en plein air landscapes that encounter nature head-on in arboreal vistas, preferably illustrating ruined structure, bucolic decay, and the general havoc caused by unfettered human ambition—constitute a kind of cult of pristine antiquity. These monk-like mavens of the fine arts have sometimes been criticized as being wary of tackling cultural content in their work, prefering limpéd, luxuriant scenes of the ideally verdant over complex meaning layered in tangled timbered matrices. (This is also true of artists taken with the mischievous conceits of graffiti-generated street art, where polychrome arabesques of meandering enigmatic images often skirt real graphic opportunities for raising genuine concerns for human welfare.)

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