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WHAT: "In Focus: Themes in Photography," Part II

WHEN: Thursday through Jan. 30, 2005

WHERE: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.

ADMISSION: $4, $3 seniors/students, under 12 free

INFO: 882-8700

When the Albright-Knox Art Gallery opens Part II of its monumental exhibition "In Focus: Themes in Photography" on Thursday, the entire 1905 building will be devoted to the art of photography, a field of endeavor that only grudgingly and belatedly was recognized as an art form at all.

The gallery was one of a few institutions that, early on, took photography seriously. In 1910, when photography's aesthetic value was widely dismissed, the gallery brought in an exhibition critical to the history of photography: the "International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography." It was organized by a legendary figure of modern art, Alfred Stieglitz, who was a pioneer photographer himself and the prime mover in the hard fight for photography's legitimacy.

Part I of "In Focus," which opened last month and continues on view with Part II, features early works acquired by the gallery from that landmark exhibition.

" 'In Focus' evolved out of a desire to want to mine the photography in the permanent collection of the gallery, which is quite rich and has great breadth," said Douglas Dreishpoon, Albright-Knox senior curator. "We opted to look at the collection through a thematic lens."

In Part I, landscape is the theme, broken down into subthemes: "Alternate Nature," "Time Passing" and "The Sublime." The works range from intimate black and white landscapes by Edward Steichen and Charlotte Spaulding Albright from the first decade of the 20th century to recent color work by such contemporary artists as Thomas Struth and Catherine Opie.

And the show, in Part I and Part II, doesn't limit itself to still photography, either. Included in Part I, for example, is Jennifer Steinkamp's projected video of a spinning seasonal tree called "Dervish I" completed this year. A holdover from an earlier show, Bill Viola's "The Messager," featuring a male nude rising through blue-black water, will continue on view during the run of "In Focus."

Part II will greatly expand the thematic range, adding "Portraits," "Places" and "Spaces." The landscape work of the first part, by such artists as Buffalo photographer John Pfahl and the industrial photographs of German husband and wife team of Bernd and Hilla Becher, will be joined by photographs that show the influence of film and narrative -- the immense illuminated box that is Jeff Wall's "Boys Cutting Through a Hedge, Vancouver," for example, or Kiki Serror's digitally altered "Close Your Eyes."

Naturally, given the gallery's dedication to abstract art, modernist photography's early experimentations are well-represented. Man Ray's photogram -- or rayogram, as he called the process that he partly invented -- "Frosted Objects (of My Affection)" of 1946 is a beautiful example that will be on view when Part II opens.

Under the always-fertile theme of "Portraits" will be those current, media-savvy photographers -- figures like Cindy Sherman and Nikki S. Lee -- that attack cultural stereotyping of women through self-portraiture. "Spaces" covers a wide gamut of recent and not-so-recent photography, from Buffalo's Les Krim's quirky "Eight Views of My Lover's Apartment, May 1978" to Andreas Gursky's colossal vision a modernist architectural interior, "Atlanta," to a crisply organized, but puzzling interior showing a boy with his hand in a drain made by Gregory Crewdson in 2001-02.

It is staggering to think that such a wide-ranging and infinitely varied display comes from one collection. "In Focus" may not quite be a complete history, but it comes close. And you thought the gallery was all about big, splashy abstract paintings.


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