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Going beyond the Albright-Knox

All’s quiet this afternoon at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

On a typical Wednesday, the venerable institution at 1285 Elmwood Ave. would be abuzz with activity as it welcomed busloads of schoolchildren and opened its doors to the public for the coming week. But these times are anything but typical, as a sign taped to the gallery’s west entrance grimly announces: “This one-week closing is part of a series of cost-cutting measures to address current and anticipated financial challenges as a result of the economic downturn.”

On the sign, the words "cost-cutting" have been underlined in blue pen by a disappointed art-seeker who also took the opportunity to scrawl a telling three-letter acronym  next to the offending paragraph.

Gallery staffers, who’ve been told to stay home without pay until next Wednesday, are taking advantage of the unfortunate weeklong furlough to catch up on long-neglected personal projects.

Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos will be catching up on household tasks and bringing his parents down from Canada for a long-postponed visit. Curator Holly Hughes, a member of a Buffalo roller derby team, will be brushing up on her skating skills. And Gretchen Grobe, who runs the gallery’s information counter, spent Monday leading a tour of City Hall for 20 of the gallery’s employees and the rest of the week preparing for the upcoming Allen West Festival.

For gallerygoers, the Albright-Knox’s temporary closure presents a similar opportunity to venture beyond the comfortable confines of the city’s most beloved art institution and into a rich visual arts scene that continues to spin along at full speed. Western New York’s largest art museum might be in sleep mode, but the city’s vast cultural network is under no threat of grinding to a halt.

Dejected art-seekers who were hoping for a glimpse of Jackon Pollock or Pablo Picasso might be easily satisfied by a jaunt across Elmwood Avenue, where the Burchfield Penney Art Center just put up a must-see retrospective of work by Buffalo sculptor Duayne Hatchett. The endlessly inventive Hatchett has spent 60 years creating sculptures and paintings, the last 20 of them in Buffalo. So this exhibition offers a glimpse not just into the mind of a talented artist, but into the unique artistic output of the city we call home.

Down on Delaware Avenue at Hallwalls, in Ani DiFranco’s Babeville (341 Delaware Ave.), an exhibition of strange and beautiful work by Eden-based sculptor Alfonso Volo stays on view through June 5. Volo’s paintings and sculptures, which have spent their share of time inside the hallowed walls of the Albright-Knox, are loaded with humor and pathos. In Hallwalls’ asymmetrical gallery, a floor up from Hallwalls’ state-of-the-art screening room, Volo’s work receives a venue ideally suited to his unconventional approach.

Perhaps even more intriguing to people used to a mammoth museum experience are Buffalo’s dozens of smaller art spaces, which tend to house some of the more experimental and off-beat projects. There’s the brand-new Sugar City (19 Wadsworth), where local artist Mark McLoughlin will be holed up through June 13 working on “Double Incidence,” a pinhole camera project. Then there’s the ever-intriguing Big Orbit Gallery, tucked into the red brick Essex Art Center at 34D Essex St., which is hosting a hyper-conceptual show of photographs by London-based artist Craig Smith.

University at Buffalo professor Gary Nickard’s exhibition “A Moment of Uncertainty” on the ground floor of CEPA Gallery (617 Main St.) is a curious exploration of time and space through a series of large scale photographs. In the gritty enclave of Allentown, CEPA Director Lawrence Brose has an exhibition of stunning prints from his epic 1997 film “De Profundis” at Studio Hart (65 Allen St.) and across the street at Elisabeth Samuels’ recently established Indigo Art (74 Allen St.), Nancy Belfer’s expert collages and fiber works stay on view until June 7.

And that’s just for starters.

So for anyone bemoaning the closure of the Albright-Knox, which returns to full operational status next Wednesday, despair shouldn’t be an option. Louis Grachos may be home doing yard work, but you could be out exploring just how deep Buffalo's visual arts scene really goes.

--Colin Dabkowski

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