'Can this be Buffalo?'
That headline just about says it all. The Toronto Star's Peter Goddard, an occasional chronicler of Buffalo's more high-profile artistic endeavors, wrote a mostly glowing review of the current Albright-Knox Art Gallery mega-show "Action/Abstraction," which is up at the gallery through June 10.
In coverage of Buffalo from places else, like the New York Times and American Style magazine, what sometimes comes across is a sense of shock or surprise that our woebegone citizenry is still making and exhibiting art in Buffalo at all, let alone the sort that would merit a "world class" designation. But, given our national reputation as a snowbound "cultural hinterland" (thanks for that, NYT) -- however ill-deserved -- that's understandable enough.
Many of the greatest pieces in "Action/Abstraction" have been in the gallery's collection for decades and part of the city's heritage. Arshile Gorky's stupendous The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944), one of Knox's early gifts, is a show unto itself, a fandango of swoops dancing around totemic signs and objects.
Buffalo's willingness to walk on Abstract Expressionism's wild side in the early days is also celebrated in a small, sidebar exhibition that was not part of the original Jewish Museum exhibition in New York. Along with Buffalo-specific archival material installed by Albright-Knox chief researcher Susana Tejada are period magazine articles such as one in 1965 from Life, asking: "Can This Be Buffalo?"
Indeed it was. Buffalo had become an art destination. Gallery interest in Clyfford Still was paid back in 1964 when the New York painter gifted the museum 31 of his paintings. July 1945-R (PH-193) (1945), a Still painting that seems to oscillate between representation and abstraction, comes from the Albright-Knox collection.
Buffalo's willingness in the '50s and '60s to buy contemporary work – and to buy into the thinking behind it – was certainly not reflected by Toronto establishment circles at the time, which were mostly obliviousness to Painters Eleven, the city's own collective of hotshot Abstract Expressionist rebels.
Perhaps, with stories like Goddard's in the Star and Nicolai Ouroussoff's in the Times, the wacked-out national perception of Buffalo's cultural scene will gravitate somewhere closer to what it is in the best of times: a group of plucky, idealistic people and institutions unafraid to embrace the next wave of cultural creation, all while promoting the city's hefty artistic heritage. It is likely that the eye-rolls and snow jokes will ever stop when talk of the city comes up in Los Angeles or New York City? Maybe not. But exposure like this could help point the conversation somewhere a little more meaningful.