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All Aboard the Art Barge!

This summer a consortium of artists will build a barge filled with art in the gallery of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The next summer, if all goes well, they'll transfer the show to an actual barge and take it by canal to New York City.

Burchfield Penney and a consortium of artists embark on unusual mobile art project

Watch this space. The huge main gallery space of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, where a veritable Noah’s Ark of an art project—an artwork barge and gallery in its own right—will be constructed and on display, ultimately to break out of the gallery space and venture across the historic state canal and thence down the Hudson to New York City, in a reenactment of traditional patterns of trade and commerce across the Empire State—and examination of connections among communities—substituting art for wheat and wood.

The project will also expose to public inspection and participation customarily behind-closed-doors art exhibition creation and curatorial processes.

A consortium of six local artists is behind the project, along with Burchfield Penney Curator Scott Propeak, who said the construction of the barge/gallery is slated to begin this summer. In the meantime there will be a series of open forums at the gallery, featuring the artists involved discussing their ideas about the project, and entertaining public comment and input on aspects of the project as it develops, including what artists and/or artworks might be represented in the in-gallery barge and the mobile barge, which won’t be the same vessel. For one thing, the mobile barge will have to float, which probably will not be the case for the model made in the gallery. Propeak said negotiations are underway to obtain an actual barge for the canal and river voyage.

A website on the project that divides it into four phases with rather artspeak theory titles like replacement and displacement, a mission statement as conceptualized so far, and some preliminary related graphics can be found at Teccorp stands for Trans Empire Canal Corporation.

“What I like about the project is how it has morphed beyond the original concept,” A. J. Fries, one of the artists, said. “It has grown. When we started talking about it, in a bar, the idea was just a traveling art exhibition, on the canal, on some kind of vessel, across the state and downstate. But then when Scott [Propeak] came on board—literally and figuratively—it got a whole lot bigger. We’re lifting the veil on how an art exhibit is developed, and how it’s curated. Nobody’s seen these things before. And the public input. That’s new. The whole give-and-take and back-and-forth.”

Referring to the give-and-take so far just among the artists, Fries said, “I’m surprised how plastic we’ve all been, working together. We all have our own vision of what this whole thing should be, but we’re figuring it out together. Nobody’s going to get his own way completely. The same with when the public becomes involved.”

The instigator of the project is an artist and musician and recent UB MFA graduate known sometimes by the single name Ulysses, sometimes by the impressive multiple D. Olivier Delrieu-Schulze. He said before coming to Buffalo to study he researched the history of the region and the state, and was especially taken with the topic of the Erie Canal, and ultimately came up with the idea of a traveling art exhibit along the canal route—the internet of its day, as he describes it—the link between Buffalo on one end, New York City on the other, and all the communities in-between. And the differences among the different communities. And how these relate to art issues and social and economic issues.

For example, he says, “New York City is about money, Buffalo is about trade and transportation, and space and time, which support experimentation. These conditions affect—have always affected—commerce, but also art, and art markets.” So part of the idea is to show some Buffalo art in New York City, where the money is. But much more than that. The large idea of the project is “a conversation—from the conversation in the bar to a conversation statewide—about art and commerce. Instead of moving grain, moving culture.”

The mobile barge will stop at all appropriate places along the way—cities and other communities on the canal and down the river—to allow local folks to come on board and view the art, and talk, and see and hear some musical performance. It will be a musical barge as well as an art barge.

The other artists in the consortium are Scott Bye, Julian Montague, Kate Gaudy, and Brian Larson Clark.

Construction of the in-gallery barge is scheduled to begin in June, and the in-gallery exhibit is scheduled to open in July. The canal and river trip—down and back—is envisioned for the next summer.

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