It’s not graffiti. It’s not an elaborate crime-scene outline. It’s not the world’s largest DIY home-improvement project.
All those scrunched-up strips of green and blue painters’ tape on the north wall of the Central Library are part of “Buffalo Caverns,” a temporary mural now being installed by the Rhode Island-based Tape Art collective.
The mural is the first major project to emerge from a newly formed partnership between Erie County and Albright-Knox Art Gallery that will fund new public art projects throughout the county and foster public appreciation for art.
In the piece, life-size human figures explore cave formations with flashlights in their hands, gazing out at pale green stalactites and bright blue stalagmites. If the weather cooperates, the artists will complete their work by Thursday. After that, the mural will stay up for just eight days and will be removed during a community celebration Aug. 29.
For the artists and Albright-Knox staffers alike, the project is all about accessibility and public interaction.
“They are collaborative, they’re life-size, they are at their heart spontaneous, and they’re temporary, and that combination of things are what appeal to me,” said artist Michael Townsend, who has been making tape murals for 25 years. “It gives people a chance to appreciate and talk about art on terms that they are really comfortable with, because the medium is accessible.”
Since the artists began installing the mural Sunday, members of the community have frequently stopped to ask them questions about their inspiration and chosen medium. Two young girls who had seen the collective’s recent mural in Coney Island stopped by the library Sunday to talk to the artists and received rolls of official “Tape Art”-branded tape as gifts.
Aaron Ott, who began his county-funded job as the Albright-Knox’s public art curator earlier this year, said the project is part of an attempt to demystify art for the public and to remove the air of intimidation that often surrounds gallery exhibitions and even some public art projects.
“I think that the work itself is really nonthreatening – you can come up and touch it. The artists themselves are super-approachable. You can speak to them,” Ott said. “Something like this, it’s just easy to kind of walk up to, see from a distance, come up if you feel like you want to. So it has that kind of approachability that’s ingrained in their work.
Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski echoed Ott’s thoughts about the project’s instant appeal. She suggested that its theme, which promotes the joy of discovery and the quest for knowledge, works against the perception of institutions like the library or Albright-Knox as intimidating spaces.
“To me, the story line just speaks volumes. I compare it to our Central Library, which people have said they’re intimidated coming in,” she said. “We’ve tried for many years to make it much more friendly by putting color into it and putting in more furniture and stuff. This, to me, just tells that story on the outside of our building.”
Because of its temporary nature, the project will serve as a mere teaser for more public art projects on the immediate horizon. As part of the three-year partnership between Albright-Knox and Erie County, the gallery has promised to spend at least $120,000 per year on new public art projects.
“We’ve got some things coming up that will have a more permanent nature, but public art isn’t just big sculpture that lands on a footing and lasts forever,” Ott said. “We have a couple permanent things, we have a couple performative things, we have a couple temporary things coming up. We wanted to really help highlight through the initiative what public art is and how different it can be from site to site, artist to artist, temporary to permanent.”
Albright-Knox Director Janne Sirén, who was on hand to watch the installation process Monday morning, praised Ott for his work on the project and the artists for their commitment to the community.
“Aaron has come in like a storm over the last four months,” Sirén said. “This is just the beginning.”