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Artpark to re-create 'largest painting in the world' from 1979

Almost 40 years ago, thousands flocked to Artpark to see Gene Davis' "Niagara '79," a 43,000-square-foot painting that turned the institution's parking lot into a giant geometric abstraction.

At the time, the piece was hailed as the "largest painting in the world," and was listed as such in the Guinness Book of World Records. It took 450 gallons of paint, seven miles of masking tape and 10 people to execute.

In the coming weeks, thanks to a successful $20,000 crowdfunding campaign, Artpark will re-create the piece for a new generation of art-lovers. It will be painted in parking lot C, next to Artpark's Mainstage Theatre.

Artpark Director Sonia Kozlova-Clark said the idea for the project emerged from a Facebook post of Davis' original work.

"In late 2015, we posted an image of Gene Davis’ 'Niagara 1979' on Facebook, where dozens of comments from the community came pouring in, with childhood memories associated with Artpark and this work specifically," she said. "Obviously, it resonated. Public art is important to this community and the memories of Artpark’s prolific history in the public art realm is something to cherish."

Artpark has been working with SUNY Buffalo State's art conservation department to match the exact paint colors Davis used for the piece, which was made up of 60 two-foot-wide lines in nine colors. After it was installed, it came to be known simply as "The Painted Parking Lot."

Davis, who died in 1985, was a former journalist and editor who came to visual art in the late 1960s. He often compared his visual style to jazz. Burchfield Penney Art Center Director Anthony Bannon called Davis' Artpark project, which will be reproduced with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, his "magnum opus."

"What makes this artwork so amazing is the fact that it's created in a non-traditional space, a parking lot, which offers viewers and visitors the opportunity to experience art in a completely different perspective," said Michael Beam, a curator at Niagara University's Castellani Art Museum, in a fundraising video for the project.

In that same video, Michael Broderick, owner of Lewiston's Orange Cat Coffee Company, said he fondly recalled the project from summertime trips to Artpark as a child.

"Seeing the Painted Parking Lot was the first spark of excitement, the first and last memory of the day," he said.

Some pictures of the original piece:

Gene Davis' installation "Niagara 1979" was called the "largest painting in the world" when it was completed in an Artpark parking lot. The institution will re-create the piece this year.

The project, Bannon said in a statement, honors the legacy of Davis and the ambitious mission of Artpark in its prime.

"Artpark repeating [this work] in the spirit of Gene Davis says we're going to try the impossible, we're going to build this again," said Bannon, who wrote about Davis' work at Artpark for this newspaper nearly four decades ago. "It's outrageous, it's impossible, but I think we can make it, and make the impossible something that we recognize, and champion, and want to stand behind."

According to a release, 145 individual donors contributed to the fundraising campaign. Artpark will document the prepping and painting process on their Facebook page, at Facebook.com/artparkny.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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