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Tony Sisti: Gone, But Hardly Forgotten

Anthony Sisti: Forgotten Regionalist” runs from April 11-August 10 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. This peculiarly titled show immediately begs the question: Who, exactly, has forgotten Tony Sisti?

The Buffalo artist and art dealer (1901-1983) has a gallery within the building named after him. And the museum has a contentious history with Sisti, dating to the opening days of the original Burchfield Center, that has ongoing ramifications.

Those who pass the historical plaque at Tony Sisti Park, at North and Franklin Streets, are unlikely to forget him. That’s right up the street from the commercial gallery Sisti operated for decades.

Local art and antique dealers continue to admire and deal in Sisti’s art. They also remember his legendary corruption. While Sisti was a talented artist, and many legitimate works by him are in private and institutional collections, there are stories that made him unforgettable.

One story involves a group of “Sisti” paintings that keep showing up. It turns out they are actually by George Renouard (1885-1954). Renouard often neglected to sign his art. As a gallerist, Sisti dealt in Renouard pieces. It is known that Sisti added his own signature to many of Renouard’s paintings. On special occasions, he even gifted them to relatives.

So, local art restorers can’t forget Sisti either. They’ve been removing his signature from Renouards for years.

It can be difficult to separate the Sisti myth from reality.

Sisti was born in New York City; his family moved to Buffalo when he was 10. Sisti became a bantamweight fighter, known as “Kid Tony.”

He also studied at the Albright Art School. Purportedly, he used his boxing earnings to finance further studies in Florence from 1925-1931.

Story has it that Sisti, broke, boxed in Rome to earn passage back to America. He returned to Buffalo and became a WPA (Works Progress Administration) muralist.

Sisti was included in shows at the Albright Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art. Sisti’s obituary in the New York Times says that he traveled with Ernest Hemingway to the Congo. He is cited in Who Was Who in American Art.

Both Sisti’s quality work, such as those pieces on view in the BPAC exhibition, and his misdeeds, continue his legend. He was a flawed man, with obvious talents. And this is an appropriate way to remember. But, please, don’t tell me you forgot him.

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