The biggest news in Western New York’s art world in 2012 was the announcement that Louis Grachos would leave the top post at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery at the end of the year after a decade of visionary leadership. So it stands to reason that the biggest art-world news of 2013 was the arrival of the gallery’s 11th director, the Finnish-born and American-educated Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, in April.
Sirén’s young tenure at the gallery already has resulted in one high-profile exhibition that’s getting national attention. He cleared a yearlong space in the gallery’s tight schedule for a show celebrating the acquisition of a major new painting by Anselm Kiefer, a daunting and beautiful landscape known as “der Morgenthau Plan.” Sirén also carried through to their conclusions a few important projects designed by his predecessor, including Andy Goldworthy’s largely invisible piece “Path” and Jason Middlebrook’s bejeweled tree “Underlife” on the gallery’s east lawn.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center had what was probably the strongest year so far in its building on Elmwood Avenue under director Anthony Bannon, who returned to the top job at the center in 2012 after 16 years away. The Burchfield launched its most visible project yet, the constantly changing sound and video installation known as “The Front Yard,” in October. Its Charles Burchfield exhibitions, including shows based on his writings and work as a designer, have become consistently more innovative, as has nearly all of the museum’s programming.
Meanwhile, the many smaller but no less vital engines of Buffalo’s visual arts ecology continue to chug along, sending out significant one-off exhibitions and major projects running the gamut from the University at Buffalo Art Gallery’s sprawling “My Future Ex” that occupied sites around the city to independent warehouse shows that have until recently not been a part of the city’s organization-centric arts world.
While arts funding from public sources has rebounded since the 2010-11 Erie County cultural funding scare, it remains a daily source of anxiety for some of the city’s longest-established arts spaces, including Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and Buffalo Arts Studio. As the city continues its investment and real estate renaissance – which is following as if according to formula the cultural renaissance that has played out across the region over the past decade – arts organizations are hoping that the improved economic fortunes of the city will eventually spell more stability for them.
This has not yet turned out to be the case, so 2013 has found many visual arts organizations in a productive but uneasy state of limbo between the unlikely and hard-won artistic successes of the past few difficult years and the dreamed-of financial stability to come.
Apart from the dozens of busy organizations and galleries that make up the region’s singular visual arts scenes, the Buffalo Infringement Festival continues to be one of the most interesting and successful enterprises in the cultural landscape. Its 2013 version was the largest and most high-profile yet, a continued testament to the deep creative fabric of the city that remains largely unexplored.