It’s been a chaotic month at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
In early January, the gallery’s longtime director, Louis Grachos, left for a new job directing a museum in Austin, Texas. Two weeks later, the gallery announced the appointment of Finnish museum director Janne Sirén as its new director.
That same week, it opened a new exhibition, “Looking Out and Looking In,” a survey of the photography the gallery has collected over the past three decades. And on Saturday, after its excellent “Decade” exhibition came down, it launched two long-planned shows, “Dennis Maher: House of Collective Repair” and “Agnes Martin: The New York-Taos Connection (1947-1957).”
There’s even more in store, in short order: On Feb. 16, after more than a year of planning, the gallery will open a major, midcareer survey of work by the Canadian digital and video artist Kelly Richardson. And work by members of the gallery’s “Creative Connection” program, which caters to gallerygoers with developmental disabilities and other special needs, goes on view March 15.
Here’s a look at what’s going on during this very busy winter at the Albright-Knox.
“Dennis Maher: House of Collective Repair”
Through May 12
In 2009, local architect and artist Dennis Maher bought a house on Fargo Street for $10,000.
Since then, he has stripped back layers of wood and paint, radically reconfigured the interior structure of the building and filled it with an always shifting collection of oddities, thrift store finds and sculptural objects of his own design.
The show features sculptures by nine local contractors, each of whom was invited by Maher to visit the house and draw inspiration from his work to create their own pieces of art. The results – from a model house made from roofing materials by contractor Chris Ziolkowski to another house model that doubles as a guitar by window and door expert Dan Farrell – challenge viewers to think more deeply about the materials that surround them.
Maher told The News in September that he was excited that the gallery had chosen a local artist for a residency. The entire endeavor, from the house to the work of nine local contractors, he suggested, is an attempt to paint a picture of the city in an entirely new way.
“I call this whole project a city-house model,” he said. “I think about this as kind of consolidating the energy, the movement of things in the surrounding world of social, economic material exchanges and bringing them into the boundaries of the house.”
“Agnes Martin: The New York-Taos Connection (1947-1957)”
Through May 12
When some artists come face to face with their early work, a kind of instinctual revulsion sets in.
For these artists, the idea of confronting a flawed painting or a piece that no longer fits into their artistic approach is just too painful to bear. So these artists – among whose ranks are some of the best ever to set paintbrush to canvas – make a concerted effort to destroy that work.
Martin, the enigmatic painter known best for her stern, minimalist paintings featuring austere grids, was one such artist. While living in Taos, New Mexico, in the 1950s, she created 100 or so abstract paintings that are very different in style from the work she’s most famous for. So Martin, motivated by that feeling of disgust familiar to so many committed painters who have methodically destroyed old work, did away with as many of them as she could.
But she missed a few. And these paintings, which reveal a different side of an artist many in the art world only think they know, are the basis for this exhibit. The show originated at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos and was organized by Harwood curator Jina Brenneman.
The exhibition features a series of biomorphic abstract paintings, which will give context to the Albright-Knox’s modest holdings of Martin’s work, which includes the quiet 1965 painting “The Tree.” Albright-Knox Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon will also pad out the exhibition with works on paper and other paintings by Martin from the gallery’s collection.
“Looking Out and Looking In: A Selection of Contemporary Photography”
Through May 26
Lately, the tucked-away exhibition space known as “The Link” has been home to some of the gallery’s most potent and effective exhibitions. Its smart deployment by gallery curators in recent years goes to show that you don’t need huge amounts of space to wow crowds – just huge vision.
This compact photography show, smartly curated by education curator Mariann W. Smith, is a successful attempt to demonstrate the gallery’s good taste in recent photography.
It starts off with several pieces by the talented Western New York photographer John Pfahl. His “Scrolls” series is made up of nature photographs that have been elongated, stretched and otherwise digitally manipulated to make them seem otherworldly. Pfahl’s digital trickery causes a disconcerting effect in the viewer not unlike the feeling one might get from looking at a map of familiar surroundings turned upside down.
Jean Marc Bustamante’s “L.P. II (Long Playing, Lost Paradise, Lake’s Photographs)” is a seductive scene of a tree stump at the edge of a mountain lake. Look awhile, though, and you’ll see the clear marks on the stump and others that surround it, each a subtle sign of man’s interference into nature. In that way, his work is not unlike the photographs of Victoria Sambunaris or the addictive oil paintings of local painter Michael Herbold, part of a proud and long lineage of artists concerned with our effects on the natural world.
Phillip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Head #6,” a photograph of a pedestrian caught in deep thought on a sidewalk, has all the visual allure you could hope for from a piece of deeply conceptual art. DiCorcia set up a remote flash on a random section of sidewalk and shot at shutter speed high enough to black out the background. The images, devoid of all context, make the viewer focus on the face and the emotion of the subject in a way a typical photograph couldn’t accomplish.
There are dozens more excellent pieces, including Andreas Gursky’s “Atlanta, 1996,” which captures in crisp detail several floors of an Atlanta hotel, and several pieces by French artist Sophie Ristelhueber, whose large-scale photographs of Kuwait in the wake of the Gulf War are beautiful and disturbing at once.