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Drawings and Installation by Anne Muntges at Indigo Gallery

"Small Contradictions" by Anne Muntges.

Architectural Peelings

Buffalo’s surfeit of historic architectural structures has served as reference for scores of artists working in all media. While most of these artists have focused on the large and grandiose—public buildings and industrial sites—Anne Muntges, whose work is on view at Indigo Gallery through February 24, has turned her attention to the quieter architectural majesty of domestic interiors. Muntges, who relocated from St. Louis to Buffalo in 2006 to complete her MFA at UB, didn’t need to look any further than the architectural details of her own turn-of-the-century Elmwood Village home for inspiration. The series of drawings titled Small Contradictions and site-specific installation in the gallery are perfect complements and mark the artist’s first solo exhibition in Buffalo since her UB thesis exhibition (a performance work) in 2008. Muntges’s exquisitely rendered and idiosyncratic drawings have been shown only one or two at a time since then, so seeing an entire series of her work is a very welcome opportunity.

Home interiors by their nature are environments that convey structure and order through the various built elements that comprise them. Muntges’s response to her subject is to simultaneously represent and subvert that ordered perfection, or as the artist describes: “break the prospect of perfection, creating a more honest reflection of the environment.” One strategy she employs to achieve this is to structure her collage like drawings as amalgams of objects and surface textures.

The drawings are primarily representational, depicting architectural features such as stairs, banisters, wainscoting, door frames, and columns, each rendered in varied styles. Some of the objects are drawn in rich detail with dense crosshatching and others are limited to mere outlines of recognizable forms. Muntges deftly combines these two styles to unify each composition. Combined with an often skewed perspective, the result is a certain “unrealness” of the setting. What is not in the drawing is just as important as what is there. Since all of them are essentially details, the viewer is left to complete the picture and fill in what is beyond the segment that is depicted.

In recent years, Muntges has also been exploring varying approaches to disrupt the precision of her own drawings by including some chaotic element. In this current series, she has introduced sections of brick walls in unexpected places such as within a doorframe. Her intent is to “form an immovable barrier in order to establish an unsettling effect.” Yet another intriguing layer of surface and meaning is imposed onto the drawings through ghostlike veils of wood grain that incongruously appear over sections of some of the drawings.

All of the works demonstrate Muntges’ sensitive and confident handing of her media—ink, colored pencil and graphite. The final nod to the fact that the artist is drawing attention to the physicality of her subject matter is the unconventional framing for each drawing, which consists of a careworn “antique” wood frame that is simply placed over each drawing after it is adhered to the wall. The frames all function as tangible expressions of faded elegance; however the white-painted frames are the most effective ones since they visually expand the drawings rather than confine them within a prescribed perimeter.

Extending across one wall of the gallery is an installation that can be easily described as a draftsman’s fantasy. What if ones imagined drawing could be executed life size? That is exactly what Muntges has done by recreating a stairwell fragment, and small sections of angled nine-feet-tall walls with cornices and moldings all mimicking the abundance of textural marks that appear in her drawings. The result—a smaller version of an installation that the artist created for an outstanding drawing exhibition at the UB Art Gallery last fall—is an impressive counterpoint to the drawings.

One of the great joys of following an artist’s work is that you can recognize the moment when the ideas that they are exploring in their work coalesce and what emerges is a highly cohesive and iconic body of work. This exhibition marks one of those highly rewarding moments in Muntges’s career.

Indigo Gallery—now in its fourth location since it was founded as the Calumet Gallery in 1998—continues to admirably fill an important niche in Buffalo’s art scene through thoughtful thematic exhibitions and solo shows by both emerging and established artists from the region. Much of the credit for its success is due to the curatorial choices made by director Elizabeth Samuels, who describes the venue as a “hybrid between a commercial gallery and exhibition space.” Next up at this self-described “independent gallery” will be an exhibition of new work and a site-specific installation by Peter Sowiski, one of Buffalo’s most accomplished printmakers and a former longtime fine arts professor at Buffalo State College. This promising exhibition will open on March 1. Be sure to see it if you want to see yet another example of the gallery’s programming at its best.

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