WHAT: Gerrit Engel: Buffalo Grain Elevators
WHEN: Through Jan. 2
WHERE: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.
TICKETS: $4, $3 seniors and students, 12 and under free
German-born photographer Gerrit Engel is the latest in a long line of artists and architects who have discovered a distinctive beauty in Buffalo's grain elevators. Engel came to the city in the 1990s to assess these monuments of an industrial age now gone, and immediately recognized the potential power of these imposing structures as subjects for the camera.
Engel's approach is not that of the documentarian out to record historical fact. Instead, he is an artist who consciously composes, framing in such a way that building shape, sky and waterway form a taut whole. Engel also has a keen sense of the dramatic and will use perspective, color and abrupt contrast of light and shadow for theatrical effect. In one view of the Concrete Central he takes a low shot over a strip of bright green grasses, capturing the elevator in a perspective that carries the eye toward the horizon where the black rectangle of an isolated tower cuts forcefully into the white sky. Another wittily plays up the twin reflections on the water of two elevators, and still another uses a scattering of sailboats as a delicate counterpoint to the weighty bulk of buildings set off to one side of the composition. And he is not above anthropomorphizing his subject: One tightly framed shot of Cargill Superior, with it stark display of ragged textures and muted colors, looks like some kind of twisted geometric monster. Sometimes Engel sees his subject as finely wrought abstraction, other times as a thing of near-fantasy. He can at times over-romanticize -- as in one view of a twin-towered structure that looks a little too much like the ruin of a cathedral. And he can overplay the abstract bit, as in a hackneyed close-up of the patterns of tar lines on an elevator. But overall these are intelligent, well-composed works that offer a fresh view of these industrial giants. The show is part of the New Room of Contemporary Art series and was curatored by Claire Schneider, assistant curator at the gallery.
-- Richard Huntington