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Albright-Knox launches 'Art Madness' competition

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If your NCAA bracket has already fallen apart miserably, don't fret. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in an attempt to ramp up interest in its collection amid the Madness of March, has launched its own competition. The contest, called #ArtMadness, features some of the key pieces of art in the gallery's collection. The first round features old and new favorites, from Picasso's "La Toilette" to Jason Middlebrook's recently completed sculpture "Underlife."

Today, the high-seeded "La Toilette," which kicked off an intense controversy when it was acquired in the mid-1920s, goes up against Tissot's 1883-85 painting "Political Woman." Though Picasso clearly has the advantage here in name recognition and contemporary currency, Tissot is a historical heavyweight with plenty of art-world support. You can vote for your favorite via the AKAG's Twitter stream or Facebook page, where Tissot is currently ahead 17 to 6.

Tomorrow's matchup features two recent additions to the league: Middlebrook's "Underlife" will face off, so to speak, against Jaume Plensa's "Laura." The competition wraps up on April 7.

--Colin Dabkowski

A closer look: 'Urnes Cicada' by Patrick Willett

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Arist: Patrick Willett // Title: "Urnes Cicada" // "Currents: Recent Watercolors by Patrick Willett" // Through March 31 in Studio Hart

The cicada is a creature imbued with all manner of ancient meanings, an insect that becomes a periodic fascination when it emerges toward the end of its lifespan for a few weeks every 13 or 17 years. It also fascinates the painter Patrick Willett, who produced a series of watercolors of cicadas in the midst of a recent illness. (Three of them are now on view: One in Studio Hart, one in Buffalo Arts Studio and one in the Benjaman Gallery.) He painted the piece while listening to the distinctive chirp of a cicada in his yard, and it seems the act of painting it served to distract and comfort him in a time of personal distress.

During his recent opening in Studio Hart, Willett said that the cicada simply seemed like an ancient creature to him -- something that spoke to old traditions and cultures mostly unknown to us today. If you peer closely at his cicada's anatomically accurate wings, you'll see strange swirls and filigrees. They are embelleshments in the "urnes" style, a kind of Viking art that also bears a resemblance to Celtic decorative patterns. The wings of Willett's ancient cicada are filled with ancient references, a fact that imbues this painting with a kind of comforting heft. It's at once classically beautiful and freighted with ancient meaning -- just like a the cicada itself.

Here's an even closer look at the wings:

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--Colin Dabkowski

Sugar City to open new Niagara Street space by summer

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The Buffalo arts collective Sugar City will move into this building at 1239 Niagara St. by early summer.

Sugar City, the arts collective formerly housed in an Allentown storefront, has announced plans to open a new art and performance space at 1239 Niagara St. by early summer. The collective's new spot, formerly the bar Compton's After Dark, has undergone recent repairs for water damage. It will join a number of new projects and businesses on the resurgent Niagara Street block.

"We are looking forward to being part of the development of this corridor and to be neighbors with businesses like Santasiero's, Community Beer Works and the new Resurgence Brewery, BT&C Gallery, Buffalo Riverkeeper, and more," a Sugar City release reads.

Last month, the newly launched Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery announced plans to open in a building across the street.

The DIY arts collective operated underground for a number of years before landing on Wadsworth Avenue in 2009. After that space was purchased by the owners of Pausa Art House, Sugar City became an itinerant organization but continued to host frequent events in venues around the city -- including a popular art ride on Buffalo's Metro Rail. Last year, the group received a surprise $30,000 grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Sugar City will hold a public meeting about the new space and the future of the organization at 6:30 p.m. March 27 at 1239 Niagara St. More info on the meeting is here.

 

--Colin Dabkowski

Gardner Museum latest to offer virtual collection via Google

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Yesterday, Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum announced a collaboration with Google's Cultural Institute that will extend the museum's collection to perhaps millions of digital visitors.

The virtual tour of the museum, the latest in a series of art-based digitization projects, is online now. It's as appealing and functional a digital tour as I've ever experienced, though, as Sebastian Smee writes in the Boston Globe, it can't possibly hold a candle to the experience of visiting the actual museum.

To me, concerns about the digitization of museum materials potentially removing the need for a museum visit are beside the point. Most of the world's population is unable or unwilling to travel to museums in their own capitals, let alone in other countries. For them, a digital route -- should that even be available to them -- is the only one.

I see two main advantages to bringing these collections online. First, they give millions of people who would otherwise never visit these museums access to the great artistic accomplishments of civilization. No small feat. Second, they provide a preview of the real museum experience that is just real enough to hold your attention, but artificial enough to entice more visitors with the means to travel and pay the admission fee to the physical museum. It's a win-win.

Other worthwhile Google Cultural Institute projects include a brief and engrossing history of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, a tour of the Palace of Versailles and extremely high-resolution digital images of important works of art.

The institute, according to Google, is "an effort to make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations."

--Colin Dabkowski

A closer look: Charles Burchfield's 'The Blizzard'

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Artist: Charles Burchfield // Title: "The Blizzard (The White North Wind)" // Image from the Burchfield Penney Archives, Burchfieldpenney.org

Charles Burchfield has a painting for any weather event, and blizzards were a favorite. He has optimistic paintings of blizzards and pessimistic ones. This one strikes me as the latter.

It stands to reason that the Burchfield Penney Art Center posted the above painting to its Facbook page today, along with this apt quote from Burchfield's March 14, 1916 journal: "I walked in the blizzard tonight..."

In the piece, begun in 1918, Burchfield brings the whipping wind to life in a picture that seems to speak of dark natural forces. The ominous clouds, the shuddering tree, the glowing houses -- all of it seems supernatural and forbidding. It's classic Burchfield, perfect for a day like this, when most of us have grown deeply disenchanted with the snow and wonder what kinds of unseen havoc this particular White North Wind might be wreaking on our region's collective psyche.

--Colin Dabkowski

Scantron runs for school board

Daniel Rockwitz Reynolds, a Buffalo teacher and performer known the local hip hop community as Scantron, announced last week that he is running for one of the three at-large seats in the upcoming election for Buffalo Board of Education on May 6. He will hold something of a campaign rally tonight at 6 in Ashker's Juice Bar.

I've run across Reynolds during the Buffalo Infringement Festival (see a short excerpt of his teaser performance for last year's festival above) and at other local arts events. In my limited experience, I have found him to be an eloquent if somewhat unorthodox advocate for the use of arts in education. His candidacy is sure to add a compelling wrinkle an already fascinating race. More info on his campaign is here.

Here's Reynold's campaign video:



--Colin Dabkowski

Chalk artist leaves a mark on McKinley Monument

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One of these lions is not like the other.

Sometime in the past few days, a chalk artist gave a bit of a makeover to one of the four leonine defenders of the McKinley Monument on Niagara Square. The vaguely sinister, orange and blue eyes,  staring out from the marble lion's snow-capped head toward the Buffalo City Court Building, are making passers-by pause for a moment to stare back.

To my less sinister eyes, these chalk ones strike me as a temporary and therefore mostly harmless modification of a classic Buffalo icon. (Paint, or something more permanent, would be an entirely different story.) They'll likely fade with the next thaw, as the snow now piled atop the statue trickles down the lion's face and washes the chalk away. In the meantime, take a walk past Niagara Square and check out how such a minor modification can renew your interest in an extraordinary monument most of us take for granted.

More pictures of the modified lion:

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--Colin Dabkowski

A closer look: 'Nightscapes: Into the Darkness'

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Artists: Frederick Mount and Zach Rose // Title: "Sun set tree, and the darkness sets in" // "Nightscapes: Into the Darkness," through Friday Sunday // 464 Gallery

Photographers Frederick Mount and Zach Rose consider themselves painters whose preferred medium is light. Their series of enchanting, eerie nocturnal scenes on view through Friday in 464 Gallery are the product of nighttime hikes into the Western New York wilderness, during which they would pause at a certain scene that caught their eye and set about creating their technically complex but ultimately seamless and naturalistic photographs. Later, in Photoshop, several photos would be combined to create the finished product, such as the photograph above, taken in Chestnut Ridge Park.

In an email, Mount explained the process of creating the scene:

When I saw this scene I particular I knew exactly the lighting that I wanted when I saw the stream: The highlighted tree leaning over the low soft rushing stream. I used a technique called light painting. I would use the 10-second timer on my camera and run into the scene, manually setting off my flash, and paint in a small section at a time. This scene is actually a composite of five photos. By using a tripod to keep my camera stable, I was able to take the five photos that lit up different parts of the scene and "paint" them together in Photoshop. This scene is from the Chestnut Ridge eternal flame path.

Below are two more photographs from the series, "Stream, or the rush of the stream in front of you" and "Red bush, the beauty of nature becomes visible to all that care to look."

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--Colin Dabkowski

Digital Comic Museum puts thousands of comics online for free

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Issue 1 of "Crime Detective" from May, 1948, is available through the Digital Comic Museum.

Twitter is abuzz today with news that the Digital Comic Museum has digitized and uploaded some 15,000 comics from before 1959 -- an era comic book fans refer to as the golden age of the form. The volume and range of titles is staggering. Check them out here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Tonight at Hallwalls: 'Tropical Seasonings' explores Southeast Asia

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A still from Thais artist Taiki Sakpisit's video "A Ripe Volcano."

Tonight at 7, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center will present a screening of 12 short films from or about Southeast Asia. The screening, an outgrowth of the KLEX Experimental Film and Video Festival, will feature films by Western New York artists as well as natives of the region.

The films range from Thai artist Taiki Sakpisit's "A Ripe Volcano," a sweeping look at the state of contemporary Thailand to Western New York artist Debora Bernagozzi's "Green Cloud Temple," based on a visit to Malaysia's Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. Here is the full list of films in the mini-festival, curated by Malaysia-based video artist Siew-Wai Kok, a graduate of the University at Buffalo's media study M.F.A. program:

Andrew Stiff (UK/Malaysia), “Gong Xi Fa Cai Part 2” // AU Sow-Yee (Malaysia), “Ruins I” // Azharr Rudin (Malaysia), “Colorfool” // Debora Bernagozzi (USA), “Green Cloud Temple” // Jason Bernagozzi (USA), “Memory and Ritual in Frame Difference” // Koji Tambata (Japan/Thailand), “The First Rain” // KOK Siew-Wai (Malaysia), “Mud Game” // LIM Chee-Yong (Malaysia), “Lulai” // Maulana M Pasha (Indonesia), “The Endless Steps” // Taiki Sakpisit (Thailand), “A Ripe Volcano” // WONG Eng-Leong (Malaysia), “Mist” // Wuttin Chansataboot (Thailand), “16x9 Capsule”

More info on the screening is here.

--Colin Dabkowski

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