Long known for its harsh winters and its past industrial glory, Buffalo is also a city that has, over the years, attracted many artists, collectors, and art-lovers. From its vaunted institutions that date back to the city's early era as the richest in the country — like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery — to those from the mid-’70s, when Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo started the artist-run center Hallwalls out of an old icehouse, it also has a unique regional sense of identity. Today, the city is seeing another wave of renewal, with local art enthusiasts planning art fairs, staging exhibitions in industrial sites, and reimagining regionalism all with an eye toward the city’s industrial past and its homegrown arts community. With the Echo Art Fair around the corner, here’s a brief run-down of some of our favorite art sites to hit-up while you’re there.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Founded in 1862 (then known as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy), Buffalo’s storied Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of the oldest public arts institutions in the country — and it pulls its weight amongst the world’s leading collections of modern and contemporary art. With some 6,500 works by American and European artists, its permanent collection includes masterworks by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still. Despite its ups and downs over a 150-year history, thanks to an aggressive acquisitions program over the past ten years, its contemporary collection is just as top-notch, touting works by Rachel Whiteread, Tom Sachs, Jim Hodges, and a sound piece by Susan Philipsz that you can hear in its auditorium, a room that resembles a set-piece from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Also currently on view are “Sweet Dreams Baby! Life of Pop, London to Warhol” and an excellent solo exhibition “Robert Therrien.” With a newly arrived director, Janne Siren, we're looking forward to seeing even more solid programming.
Echo Art Fair
What better sign of the intention to be taken seriously as an arts community than to create a stop on the art fair circuit? Echo Art Fair, which runs from September 7-8 this year, is an international juried exposition founded by Frits Abell three years ago (while the Buffalo native was then living in New York City) with the purpose of giving exposure to the many emerging and established artists who live and work in Western New York, Canada and the surrounding region, and connecting them with Buffalo’s local collector base and first-time buyers. Now in its third year, the fair will present 30 individual artists, 12 galleries, and 12 site-specific installations (created for the fair and not for sale, these serve as opportunities for more adventurous displays). During its first year, when it was just a one-day shindig, it brought in over 3,000 visitors. Last year, the event spanned a whole weekend and the crowd more than doubled to 10,000. This year, Echo expects to have its biggest numbers yet and is planning a more expanded program of plenaries and talks on collecting art, including a Q&A between New York art blogger Paddy Johnson and Janne Siren. As a nod to its growing attractiveness, the fair has garnered the highest amount of submissions yet from artists beyond Western New York. “Surprisingly, a lot of them didn’t get in,” said Abell, noting that the fair is very local this year. But he doesn’t think it has to do with pride or politics. He said, “It spoke to the quality of work produced in the region.”
Burchfield Penney Art Center
Stepping into the Burchfield Penney Art Center, you instantly have to reassess your ideas about regionalism. This institution, which was founded in 1966, is the only one devoted to art and artists of Western New York. But looking around during a recent visit, the eclectic range of works by artists Xu Bing, Ann Hamilton, and portrait photographer Douglas Kirkland — none of whom were born there — reveals the Burchfield Penney’s refreshingly fluid take on its mission: the artists need only have some connection to Western New York. Xu Bing and Hamilton were artists in residence at Alfred University’s Institute for Electronic Arts in Western New York, while Kirkland, a Canadian, got his start at a high school for young photographers in Buffalo. “Regionalism goes out of fashion every 10 to 20 years,” Anthony Bannon, director of the Burchfield Penney, told ARTINFO during our visit. And though many say that the onset of digital technology has caused the death of regionalism, Bannon disagrees. “We still need to understand ourselves,” he points out. With vast holdings of 7,500 art objects of nearly 600 artists, thousands of archival files, and 19,000 square feet of exhibition space housed in a sleek building designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, the Burchfield Penney makes a valiant and attractive effort at doing just that.
Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
Artist-run spaces are as essential, if not more, to the spirit of Buffalo than its larger institutions. Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, founded by a team of artists including Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, was a leader among them, and an outward-looking one from the get-go. When the artists opened shop in a former icehouse in 1974, they were establishing exchange opportunities with similar spaces in other cities and quickly developed a reputation for innovative and challenging interdisciplinary shows featuring, not only visual artists, but musicians, writers, filmmakers, and performance artists. The crew that has shown at Hallswell has since been high-caliber, with a list including Ana Mendieta, Chris Burden, Kiki Smith, David Salle, Janine Antoni, Vito Acconci, Harun Farocki, and Marilyn Minter, writers Zadie Smith and Chinua Achebe, poet John Ashbery, and filmmakers Guy Maddin and Larry Clark. After its peak in the late 1980s and early ’90s — after which it suffered from public funding cuts and attacks on free speech — Hallwalls had to scale back its staff and budget. Since 2000, though public funding has “plummeted,” according to its site, it nonetheless continues to carry forth its mission and has more members than ever.
City of Night at Silo City
Tapping into Buffalo’s rich industrial heritage, artists have been moving in on Silo City, a cluster of monolithic defunct grain elevators nestled in tall grass along the Buffalo River that have become one of the city’s most compelling attractions. City of Night, a multidisciplinary arts festival and fair took over the silos last weekend, as artists descended creating 60 installations, lighting up the tall, narrow grain elevators, plugging in projectors, and setting up sound installations that engaged the natural echoes enhanced by the rounded walls. Though it’s only in its second year, interest in City of Night has caught on. While the first year had 3,500 attendees, this year saw a whopping 12,000. “It was a bit more than we expected,” said lead event coordinator Dana Saylor about the crowd. “So we were a little overrun.” While the “explosion of word of mouth” signifies a growing interest in the event, Saylor said they may need to take more time the next time around to meet this interest and may turn it into a biennial event. One Buffalo native who has attended many similar events in other cities noted this was the best “industrial-heritage-meets-art” happening he had attended. He said, “I don’t know where else this could happen.”
“Hive City” at Silo City
One of the more curious sites around Silo City is “Hive City,” a tall slender structure that echoes the larger silos on the property but, in comparison, feels more human-scale. Rick Smith, the owner of Silo City, came upon a massive bee colony in a boarded-up window in one of the office buildings. In an effort to safely transport the bees while giving them a silo of their own, he enlisted professors and students from the Ecological Practices Research Group of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning for some healthy competition. The minimalist metal hive, which resonates with Silo City’s second life as a site for artistic happenings, is the structure designed by the winning team. While bees are allowed to come and go through the small openings in the metal plates, the “bee cab” can be elevated so viewers can safely climb in and look up at the bees through a glass window.
An outdoor event space tucked away at the intersection of Seneca and Swan, with restaurants and covered stages, recently played host to an air guitar championship featuring local art world figures including Albright-Knox’s Janne Siren and a band lead by Howard Zemsky, one of Buffalo’s most prominent developers — who sported a black wig a la Dee Dee Ramone. Neither won the contest. But the crowds cheering them on, and taking breaks to visit the food trucks and look at the murals by local artists Max Collins and Christopher Kameck around the space, attested to the popularity of the district — a 685,000-square-foot area, which Zemsky helped build for roughly $50 million, and earned the developer the appointment to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. When air guitar is not on the schedule, you can find live music, author readings, and classic car shows.
Founded in the same year as Hallwalls, 1974, CEPA is a non-profit arts center that focuses exclusively on photography. In addition to staging exhibitions in its two spaces in the historic Market Arcade building in Buffalo’s downtown theater district, it also funds projects by emerging and established artists, with particular interest in groups that have been underrepresented in traditional cultural spaces and offers artist residencies, a guest-lecture series, and publishes artist books. It is committed to supporting the work of artists in the Western New York region. Currently on view is a solo exhibition of the work of Buffalo-based artist Marshall Scheuttle.
Darwin Martin House Complex
The largest of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Houses in existence, the Darwin Martin House complex was designed and built for Darwin D. Martin, a Buffalo businessman, between 1903-1905. Consisting of five interconnected buildings, the main Martin house, with a pergola that connects it to a carriage house, conservatory, and chauffeur’s quarters, this building, along with the many art deco structures around the city, stands as an emblem of Buffalo’s best years. Though the house went through years of decline and neglect — three of its original five buildings were demolished, and many of its best facets (like its Wright-designed art-glass windows) — were looted, it’s undergoing an extensive restoration. Best yet, this is one Wright house you can tour.
An array of sleek classic Pierce-Arrow Town Cars lined up outside identifies the museum by the same name. Established in 1997, this non-profit taps into the transportation history and rust belt legacy of Western New York. You may not know that Buffalo produced some vehicles considered by car collectors to be some of the best ever made, but this car company produced presidential vehicles from the presidencies of Taft to Roosevelt. John D. Rockefeller, J. Edgar Hoover, Orville Wright, and Babe Ruth all drove them. The car manufacturer had its peak during World War I, for which it produced trucks, but faltered some time after, was sold to Studebaker in 1928, and by 1938 had gone bankrupt. In addition to cars, the collection also includes a 1902 electric carriage, a 1919 intercity bus, bicycles, motorcycles, and an assortment of “automobilia.”