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The Year in Art

From Indigo Gallery's exhibit of Mark Lavatelli's paintings this fall.

A look back at the biennial and beyond

Lots of art happened in Buffalo and the region this year. Starting and ending the year with huge, multi-installation shows, the month-long John Cage extravaganza at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Beyond/In Western New York biennial exhibit at venues stretching from the foot of Main Street in Buffalo to the Castellani Museum in Lewiston.

We also got to see comprehensive exhibits on two area-associated titans, Charles Burchfield, again at the Burchfield Penney, and Clyfford Still, at the Albright-Knox. (Burchfield because he lived and worked here, Still because he so appreciated the recognition and treatment he got from the Albright-Knox that he donated a passel of his works to the gallery. We got to see them all this year.)

And in the category of presentations that explain and illuminate, Buffalo-origin artist Charles Clough gave a talk at Hallwalls on a major new painting that looks pretty totally abstract, but isn’t, and demonstrated how it got to look the way it looks, and how the work is a logical culmination (so far) and more or less summation of all the work he’s ever done, starting back about when he was one of the founders of Hallwalls in the early 1970s.

The new painting is called O My Goodness, and it’s palimpsestic, that is, basically, layered. But more precisely, layered over a previously imperfectly erased layer, so that some of the previous layer still shows. Or in this case layers. Forty layers, actually, of basically figurative paintings, on a wooden board, each painting then being ground down with a grinder, and so largely erased, before application of the next painting. So that the finished painting theoretically contains elements of each of the previous paintings.

Charles Clough, "O My Goodness".

The subject of O My Goodness is world religions. Each of the 40 paintings consists of imagery related to one of 40 different religions. The final painting then is an amalgam of all the imagery, so as to represent each of the religions on an equal basis. Clough said he thinks of the work as “a singularity of great multiplicity.”

The work is about a secularist reverence for religion. About religion as art—as akin to art in its function to alternately cheer and challenge the human spirit, as well as in its use of religious imagery—and art as a religion. The artist talked about how “religion transforms into less rigid structures,” and “art as a continuation of the religious impulse.” He called art “a religion of infinite dogmas.”

The final painting won’t be officially unveiled until February, but you can view it on the artist’s website,, along with his book, entitled Pepfog Clufff, which documents his progress and development as a painter and photographer over the years, employing techniques that often included overpainting of other works, yielding artworks that were concerned with figuration but read as abstractions. Such as his boisterous mural painting in the Allen Street subway station, based on a collage of overpaintings of naturalistic imagery.

The Cage celebration at the Burchfield Penney included a wide variety of musical and non-musical works by Cage and other artists. A high point was the performance of several of his uncannily beautiful works for prepared pianos, by Amy Williams and Elena Bugallo. The series opened with Cage’s Lecture on the Weather, featuring a cacophony of simultaneous music and sound effects over a babel of readings from the works of Henry David Thoreau.

The Charles Burchfield exhibit was organized and opened in California, but it felt like when it came it here, it came home. A welcome transient complement to the center’s excellent continuing and ever-changing exhibit on its namesake great watercolorist.

Major exhibits at the Albright-Knox included the Clyfford Still; one on Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca; the Echo show, consisting of works from the gallery’s permanent collection on the theme of appropriation art; and installation of a gargantuan Sol Lewitt drawing on the walls around the staircase between the old and new buildings.

The Beyond/In Western New York exhibit of the work of local artists and some non-local opened with a tightrope walk between the statues on the top of the Liberty Building by funambulist Didier Pasquette and featured installations by about 100 different artists at a score of venues. Among the more notable were Michael Bosworth’s and J. T. Rinker’s proto-photographic presentations at the Hi-Temp Fabrication building in the downtown cobblestone district; the Paul sisters’ Rust Belt industrial era evocations and Randall Tiedman’s psychogeography paintings at the Albright-Knox; John Dickson’s smoke and mirrors cityscape-in-a-box works at Big Orbit Gallery; Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood’s cake architecture installation in front of the Historical Society; Chinese artist Millie Chen’s demurely powerful political protest works at El Museo Francisco Oller Y Diego Rivera; digital artworks by Jason Bernagozzi at Hallwalls, and Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and Barbara Lattanzi at Squeaky Wheel (and Lattanzi also at the Anderson Gallery); and an elegant archway construction by Reinhard Reitzenstein on the edge of the Larkin industrial district.

In conjunction with Beyond/In was a huge exhibit at UB recalling the glory years of Artpark in Lewiston, and two-day conference that brought back to the area many of the Artpark artists from the 1970s.

Among the more notable art exhibits not connected with Beyond/In were the members’ show and an art of war show at CEPA; photos of crows and other black birds dead and alive by Andrew Ortiz at El Museo; manipulated photos of radical landscapes by John Pfahl at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery; Joan Fitzgerald’s abstract and semi-abstract paintings at the Art Dialogue Gallery; Tim Raymond’s spidery abstractions at the Jung Center; Mark Lavatelli’s paintings in encaustic at Indigo Art; and James C. Litz’s joyous primitivist paintings at the Burchfield Penney.

And two superb exhibits at the downtown library, on flower art before and after the groundbreaking work of Swedish botanist and taxonomer Carl von Linnaeus, and on the book art of Romantic-era force of nature William Morris.

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