Albright-Knox exhibit celebrates 1970s Buffalo Avant-garde

Mar 28, 2012

Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s" runs March 30 through July 8 at the Albright-Knox.

Artist Cindy Sherman made news again this week when auction house Christie's announced it's looking to sell one of her signature self-portraits for $3.8 million.

The news foreshadows the opening at the Albright-Knox this week of "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s," an exhibition which recounts a time locally when many artists, like Cindy Sherman, then a young Buffalo State student, crossed paths on their way to influencing vast segments of the international art world.

The person charged with bringing it altogether is Albright-Knox curator, Heather Pesanti, who arrived here almost four years ago

"I knew of so many things that happened here,  but I don't think anyone ever said they happened here. Just all these examples of objects that have made it into my show where these iconic artists that I studied in graduate art history, but nobody ever said it happened in Buffalo."

But as Pesanti points out, it did happen in Buffalo at, perhaps, a time when the city's fortunes were beginning a slide that some say has never stopped.

The economy-driving steel industry was fleeing Buffalo's waterfront for international destinations and national headlines were captivated with a 1977 blizzard that claimed lives and brought Western New York life to a standstill for weeks.

"One of things I've tried to do is not be too nostalgic about it. It was an amazing moment, but it was also really destitute and poor here. It was when it (economic downturn) hit really hard and a lot of the artists talk about that, that there was nothing here. And then there was a confluence  of factors. I like to think of it as alchemy."

Bruce Nauman, Steina, Tony Conrad, Paul Sharits, Lukas Foss, Morton Feldman are just a few of the dozens of names, Heather Pesanti rattles off as she discusses Buffalo in the 1970s.

"It  (the exhibit) captures a sort of Zeitgeist of experimentation in Buffalo at that time and that consists of several different organizations that were contributing to the bigger picture, including Hallwalls and Artpark, CEPA, Media Studies, which includes both the Center for Media Study at UB and the Media Study Buffalo, the Creative Associates, the Buffalo Philharmonic and the UB English Department and Grassroots Poetry."

The exhibit runs from this Friday through July 8th.

Though its on display for just over three months, for curator Heather Pesanti it is the culmination of over three years of work that included over 60 artist interviews.

"I think my anthropology roots came into play because I tried to do research almost ethnographically. I researched every archive I could get into, I was in people's attics looking at old boxes from the 70s. I was reading all the old articles. Every aspect and type of research I could do, I did, so I could get as many different perspectives and sources."