In the front windows of Eleven Twenty Projects, a former auto dealership and showroom on an unloved stretch of Main Street at the ragged edge of the Medical Campus, a serpentine sculpture made from dozens of reclaimed fence-posts seems to slither across the length of the building.
In the dismal drizzle of Wednesday morning, drivers slowed to a crawl as they passed the intersection of Main and Summer, partly to avoid axle damage from the potholes, but also – I’d like to think – to catch a glimpse through their rain-streaked windows of this strange and unexpected jolt of creativity along one of the city’s dreariest thoroughfares.
The sculpture, conceived in the space of an afternoon and quickly executed two weeks ago by Buffalo artist Scott Bye, is the first of what will likely be many more eye-catching exhibitions and performances in the front space of John Fatta’s sporadically active art gallery, which opened in 2013.
But it’s also the first signal of a new spate of activity planned for the space’s remarkable interior of stark white walls and stratospheric ceilings, which is set to host a series of compelling exhibitions by local artists over the next several months.
Fatta, a real estate investor and inveterate collector of automobile-related ephemera and more recently visual art, bought the space in 2000 to store and display his considerable trove of car-related stuff. But in 2013, after gradually acquainting himself with the local art scene, he had a change of heart and decided to make a go of it as a gallerist.
That year, Fatta recruited Bye and others to help him transform the interior of the showroom into a pristine gallery space. Bye and his crew ripped out the ’90s-style carpeting, built several tall walls on which to hang art, slapped on a fresh coat of bright white paint, and the space was ready to go. Track lighting, from the space’s days as a dealership, was already in place. All it needed was art.
Since the gallery’s official opening in 2013, as Fatta has balanced the demands of his real estate business with his growing desire to contribute to the artistic landscape of Western New York, the space has hosted three major shows. The first was a solo exhibition of work by Buffalo painter LeRoi Johnson, followed by a show memorializing the recently deceased artist Joseph Orffeo, and finally an exhibition on the legacy of the Manhattan Project organized by University at Buffalo professor Ludocivo Centis.
But this spring and summer, activity in the gallery and in its front window display is set to ramp up.
The idea of turning the window into a semi-public exhibition space for art occurred to Fatta a little more than a year ago, when he was involved in a parking dispute with one of his neighbors. Out of frustration, Fatta dug out some vintage “no parking” signs from his collection of auto-related ephemera and installed them in the window as a message to his neighbor. The response he got was overwhelmingly positive. People viewed his frustrated statement as an art project, which prompted him to ask Bye to create a sculpture for the space.
In late April, Fatta will spotlight the work of Buffalo painter Rodney Taylor, a prolific and highly accomplished if still somehow under-the-radar artist whose work floats in a middle space between abstraction and landscape. In May, the space will feature new work by Matthew Nagowski, a statistician whose artful data visualizations chart socioeconomic trends across Western New York. And in June, the front window will become the temporary play space of Buffalo graffiti artist and prolific daily draftsman Tom Holt, whose quieter illustrative work will be on view inside the gallery.
The newly ambitious exhibition schedule stems from Fatta’s growing desire to foster what he sees as an artistic community in dire need of support.
His love for art is everywhere in evidence in the space, which also includes a room filled with old gas station signs and a sprawling garage he hopes will house artist studios during the summer. An enormous top-floor space where Fatta stores high-end cars during the winter – “It pays the taxes,” he said – is littered with large-scale paintings purchased from HSBC when it was cleaning out its offices at One Seneca Tower.
He sees that space hosting art events during the summer as well, and has a scheme for how to develop the rest of the building’s first floor as well.
It’s all part of what Fatta hopes will be the gradual transformation of this anonymous stretch of Main Street into a more vibrant urban neighborhood, with an array of offerings that go beyond Anchor Bar wings and Wendy’s bacon cheeseburgers.
“I would hope that it plays a positive role in the same way that all of the other public art projects in Buffalo are,” Fatta said, by “just giving a splash of beauty into an urban, concrete environment.”