Mark 2015 down as another banner year for visual art in Western New York.
From meticulously curated gallery exhibitions to sprawling museum shows to countless new murals and public art projects, never has the selection seemed so varied.
With that infinite variety in mind, here are 10 of my favorite art exhibitions and projects of the dozens I saw this year, in no particular order and with absolutely no distinctions made between the institutionally sanctioned and the organically homegrown:
"Amid/In Western New York," Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.
This ongoing series of exhibitions, which continues through spring, is an ingenious reinvention of the omnipresent art biennial. Its curators, John Massier, Kyle Butler and Rebecca Wing, have been casually ambling through the studios of innumerable Western New York artists, picking what strikes their peculiar and unpredictable fancies, and slapping it up on the Hall-walls. The results have been delightful and constantly surprising.
"Screen Play: Life in an Animated World," Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Albright-Knox curators Cathleen Chaffee, Holly E. Hughes and deputy director Joe Lin-Hill pulled out all possible stops for this ambitious, international survey of animated art, which flabbergasted from first to last. It was accompanied by a smart digital catalog, signaling the gallery's embrace of the digital not only as part of its collection, but as part of its operating philosophy.
"Joan Linder: Ground," Nina Freudenheim Gallery
The strange, unnatural hues of Joan Linder's delicately rendered weeds snagged the viewer's attention in this exhibition of her recent work, which draws on the toxic legacy of environmental pollution throughout the region. Linder's approach - to bring attention to this pressing issues through the simple acts of concentration and drawing - is refreshing in an era of so much conceptually overloaded art.
Over the years, few people have mistaken the Albright-Knox for a temple to egalitarian notions of labor and society. That changed for a few months during this ambitious exhibition, smartly curated by Cathleen Chaffee, which featured a stunning range of work considering the role of labor in visual art.
"Felice Koenig: Drawing Together," Big Orbit Gallery and CS1 Curatorial Projects
This project, in which local artist Felice Koenig and curator Claire Schneider invited Western New Yorkers to participate in a collaborative drawing session, was one of an increasing number of local projects featuring social practice work - or art that involves community members or stakeholders. It was as much about the piece of art that emerged from the sessions as it was about the conversations that took place during their creation.
Sometimes the simplest gestures are the most effective. Buffalo artist and photographer Max Collins, known for his work with wheatpasting throughout the city, pasted up this elegant tribute in the space of a few hours as a tribute to his recently deceased friend, Cortney Morrison-Taylor. The piece is like a living memory, destined to fade away with time.
"Hollis Frampton," CEPA Gallery
This exhibition of little-known photography by the eminent filmmaker and writer Hollis Frampton, augmented with plenty of fascinating ephemera from the '70s, gave us a unique glimpse into Frampton's work and his hyperactive brain. It demonstrated, with economy and flair, that much remains to be learned about this seminal figure in the history of American culture.
Though somewhat scattershot in execution, the aspiration of the project that Mark Goldman and his many collaborators dreamed up was its biggest accomplishment: To unite the east and west sides of Buffalo along a single street, by activating its various cultural assets and hidden historical sites. The result was a project that brought Buddhist monks and Baptist preachers, jazz and hip-hop, art and theater -- all in an attempt to prove that the boundaries that separate one side of the city from the other are nothing more than imaginary lines.
"The Likeness of Being: Portraits by Philip Burke," Burchfield Penney Art Center
For decades, Niagara Falls-based artist Philip Burke has been quietly working away in his studio, sending his keen and reliably off-kilter portraits of celebrities and politicians to national publications. In this excellent show, we came face to face with the souls of some of the most famous figures of our time, reduced to the essential characteristics by Burke's trademark brush strokes.
"Fire and Ice," CEPA Gallery
The idea couldn't have been simpler: Douglas Levere's closeup photographs of snow flakes paired with Alan Friedman's shimmering portraits of the simmering sun, combined to create a hot-and-cold reflection on two Western New York preoccupations. The show demonstrated that sometimes academically top-heavy concepts and art-historical posturing are not necessary ingredients for a gratifying experience with art. Sometimes beauty is enough.
Story topics: Albright-Knox Art Gallery/ Big Orbit Gallery/ Burchfield Penney Art Center/ CEPA Gallery/ CS1 Curatorial Projects/ East Ferry Street/ Elmwood Avenue/ Felice Koenig/ Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center/ Hollis Frampton/ Mark Goldman/ Max Collins/ Nina Freudenheim Gallery/ Philip Burke/ Ro