No human impulse is more basic than the drive to explore.
This compulsion -- from grand expeditions to aimless wanderings -- is at the heart of an ambitious exhibition set to open Sept. 8 in the University at Buffalo Art Gallery in Amherst and the UB Anderson Gallery.
"Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967-2017," which also features a dozen ancillary events and lectures beyond its two static exhibitions, is the brainchild of UB Art Galleries Curator Rachel Adams.
It emerged from Adams' longtime interest in the artistic impulse to walk, wander and document journeys in photography, video, painting and installation. The exhibit spotlights artists whose work exists largely outside the studio, whether on city streets, muddy canals, rural thickets or vast open spaces overgrown with weeds.
These artists, Adams wrote in her catalog essay, "have departed from the studio, the stage, the gallery, the museum. They had found themselves wandering, sometimes with a purpose, and at other times not."
"It goes back to this need for all of us to go outside, take a walk and go explore something, go for a hike, go for an adventure," Adams said recently in the UB Art Gallery as the show was being installed. "I think that's a very personal thing and people can relate to a lot of the work in the show that way."
Adams drew inspiration for "Wanderlust" from Rebecca Solnit's book of the same name, which prompted her and her husband to take a meandering road trip across the American southwest. That's where the idea of the show started germinating, and by the time Adams came to Buffalo in 2015 it had taken on its basic shape.
One of the first pieces viewers will see is a 1997 video by Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs, which shows him pushing an enormous block of ice through the streets of Mexico City. As the day goes on, the ice shrinks to the size of a cube you'd put in your afternoon cocktail, by which time Alÿs has led himself and viewers on a bizarre and fascinating tour of the city.
The show features photographs by New York City-based artist Mary Mattingly, shown in one 2013 print dragging a spherical ball filled with her belongings across the Bayonne Bridge from Staten Island to New Jersey. Alan Kaprow's humorous 1989 performance, "Taking a Shoe For a Walk," is also represented by a photograph, as is the haunting work of the late Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendiata, who constructed strange silhouettes of her body in rural environments with rocks, dirt, pigment and blood.
Local work in the show includes Millie Chen's 2014 film "Tour," which explores now-bucolic landscapes where atrocities once unfolded, a series of slyly altered landscapes by photographer John Pfahl and another series of tree photographs by Roberley Bell.
But the pièce de résistance is an installation by Marie Lorenz in the Lightwell Gallery, in which 1,200 porcelain-cast objects collected from New York waterways hang from the ceiling in a meticulous balance. There are water bottles, bits of old clothing, pieces of tires and every imaginable type of floating detritus. The effect is a pristine 3-D map of human pollution.
The exhibition includes many artist visits and events. Highlights: Blind artist Carmen Paplia will lead a tour of the University Heights neighborhood at 1 p.m. Sept. 9; an interactive walk at Times Beach led by artist Teri Reub at noon Sept. 17; and a screening of the documentary "Through the Repellant Fence: A Land Art Film" at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 in the North Park Theatre.
"Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967-2017," opens Sept. 7 and runs through Dec. 31 in the University at Buffalo Art Gallery (201 Center for the Arts, Amherst) and the UB Anderson Gallery (1 Martha Jackson Place). Admission is free. Visit ubartgalleries.buffalo.edu for a full schedule of events, or call 829-3754.