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Sharon F. Cramer: Two projects break down the barriers to art

Most of us have stood, looked at works of art, shrugged and thought, “I don’t get it.” Around us are sights and sounds created by artists to convey moods, ideas, visions. Yet, it can be difficult to connect with creators; often, we remain on the other side of their glass windows, distanced from their artistic touch.

How do we find ways to stop being observers and actually grasp the hands artists extend to us? Recently, two opportunities for Western New Yorkers broke through barriers.

The first, Art Alive!, celebrated its 20th year of temporarily engulfing the east lawn of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery with art. This year, 25 portrayals (from 12 school and eight individual artists) took up the annual challenge – to create vivid, surprising versions of art, which will exist for only two hours. Participants must hunt through the Albright-Knox’s own collection, as well as museums and private collections around the world. Their searches yield fantastic results, and we, the beneficiaries, attend for free.

Under relentless sun or in shade, a Brigadoon of art appears. Students (who have combined their imaginations with paint, makeup and costumes in preparation for the day) position themselves as figures in paintings or sculptures. Often, scenic backdrops supplement what we see. We glance back and forth between the “actual” art (shown on signs near each piece, along with the name of the school or artist responsible for the work) and the live art before us.

Each depiction is unique. For example, the Lancaster High School Art Honors Society chose “Jazz Band” (Dirty Style Blues, 1944) by Jean Dubuffet. We entered into the painting, because the piece was no longer only hanging on the wall in Paris, at the Centre Pompidou. Instead, six costumed students represented both the figures in the painting and the joyful music the artist wished us to hear. Students added sound and movement to their depiction, art no longer keeping us out, but instead, welcoming us in.

We saw so much more – a tornado in Kansas, Shark Girl, radioactive cats – because instructors and students let us join them on fantastic journeys, to the centers of their chosen pieces of art.

The second event, later in the same weekend, offered a totally different type of excursion, taking place within Kleinhans Music Hall. There, as part of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s last concert of the season, the extraordinary performance of “The Alpine Symphony” by Richard Strauss was enhanced by projected photographs taken by Tobias Melle. Melle spent three summers in the Alps, taking photographs specifically to accompany this piece.

The symphony brings the listener on a full day hike, beginning at night and ending at dusk. And, through the gifts of sight and sound, we traveled.

Before the music began, the hall was completely darkened; slowly, violins and light emerged, along with displayed mountains at dawn. We were transported onto nearby mountains, visited towns, flowers, streams: we heard as we saw. The climactic sudden storm impacted all our senses. No one present could have remained outside the music.

Lucky were we: two offers, artists extending their hands to us and totally pulling us in.

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