On the Town
On View/There’s something happening HERE!
(What it is ain’t exactly clear)
BY BRUCE ADAMS
“Here.” As in, here you go. Here we are. Here, take this.
Or, an answer to roll call: here. It’s a measure of frustration:
I’ve had it up to here! And of course, “here” is where you
are right now. The word “here” comes with a multitude of
denotations and connotations.
here it adds to the overall obfuscation.
Much of the rest of the show comprises groupings that sometimes, but not
always, suggest a theme. Even when an
apparent thematic grouping seems to be
taking shape, mysteries abound.
Why, for instance, is Joe Scheer’s stun-
ningly detailed giclée print of a mount-
ed moth, surrounded by (among other
things) a news photo of firemen, two pic-
tures of orchestra leaders, and one of a
handicapped child? A diptych of quad-
rilateral-shaped minimalist paintings
by Herta Kane caps an alcove of imag-
es reflecting death; call it mortality
row. The large all-black works might be
intended as metaphoric headstones, but
they appear jarringly out of place in this
context. In that same alcove, a graph-
ic color photo of suicide victim Bobby
Jackson impaled on Buffalo’s City Hall
flagpole seems wholly gratuitous. And as
much as Steven Rich’s darkly humorous,
massive wooden sculpture The Drying
Bear is rollicking fun, it’s hard to fathom
any connection to the show.
Panopticon, Steve Miller’s large painting of red-colored I-beam construction
superimposed with a fragmented eye,
hangs roughly twenty feet up the wall
where it is difficult to identify and will
likely be overlooked by most visitors.
HERE! is also the name of a major
exhibition now on view at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC), part of
the museum’s year-long fiftieth anniversary celebration. The title, in upper case
with exclamation point, verily shouts its
message. But what message? HERE! is
described as a “rearview window to the
living culture that shaped this region.”
It could also be described as a potpourri
of art and ephemera from the museum’s
collection that is neither here nor there.
According to the wall text, the work
in the exhibition falls into themes or
“idea bins” called Dawn, Place, Family, Labor, Struggle, Nightfall, and Spirit.
However, there is no indication of what
each designation denotes, and these
thematic divisions or categories do not
appear throughout the show. The text
also suggests that visitors “read the
images [i.e., artworks] as if the show
was a poem,” which is itself an intriguing poetic notion, albeit one that leaves
the job of making sense of the exhibition up to the audience.
It is perhaps the inevitable ambition
of regional museums to define the unique
cultural characteristics that distinguish
its community. It’s a laudable goal, but
one fraught with risks due to the subjective nature of the task. The Burchfield
Penney’s approach is to include a bit of
everything, like an enormous cabinet of
curiosities, and let the audience sort it
out. The result is either an art viewing
adventure, with surprises around every
corner, or a frustrating experience without discernable intent. It depends on
your tolerance of curatorial ambiguity
and visual cacophony.
So, here we have a row of photographic portraits culled from the hundreds of
fine examples produced by David Moog
in his ongoing mission to document the
entire arts community. They reflect a
diversity of race, age, and gender that
marks Buffalo’s art scene, and, presumably, that is their purpose. Throughout,
photojournalism is liberally mixed with
art photography, making it hard at times
to determine what’s what. That alone is
a worthy concept for an exhibition, but