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Art Review

"Beyond/In Western New ork"

Biennial art exhibit. Various venues through mid-June.

As the second round of openings for "Beyond/In Western New York 2005" were completed last weekend, this greatly expanded version of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's regional invitational took on the look of a full-blown survey of contemporary art.

As an example, take the installation, an art form that is ubiquitous in galleries and museums from New York City to Los Angeles and throughout the world. The installation can sometimes seem not much more than good department-store window design spread neatly out on the gallery floor. Not so in this show.

At Big Orbit Gallery Paul Vanouse's "The Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform," despite its techno-sounding title, is a fabulous invention. Opening night it had participants in bright yellow plastic suits walking, sitting, dancing (some very pro-looking stuff) and crawling around its 16-foot-diameter surface activating rows of big red buttons. Visually, the buttons triggered big red dots signifying cities on a world map projected on the wall; aurally, the buttons set off prerecorded messages -- inaudible at the noisy opening -- from the location shown on the map. The staggering thing was that in this ingenious way a wily Buffalonian could be in simulated touch with individuals from 2,000 cities across the globe. That's 2,000 cities, -- 2,000, mind you! Finding Buffalo required a small-step dance somewhere along the two-o'clock radius.

Equally impressive was Mille Chen's sound/space installation, "Call," at Buffalo Arts Studio. Both Chen's and Vanouse's pieces use sophisticated electronic circuitry, but for vastly different purposes. Chen's piece features haunting Arabic chants ranging from a Muslim call to prayer, a love song and a children's chant. Following the chants into a darkened room, its only illumination a scrim-muted light, you instinctively move toward the sound, only to have it retreat the closer you come. The effect, unlike Vanouse's illusion of communication across great distances, is one that holds communication in abeyance, creating a sense of almost painful yearning.

Round Two also markedly increased the amount and range of painting in the exhibition. Burchfield-Penney Art Center was especially rich in this now old-fashioned art, featuring Jackie Felix's gray, forlorn paintings under the bitingly sarcastic title of "We're Really Happy"; Joe Miller's fascinating resurrection of pre-Raphaelite psychological oddness; Jim Morris' intriguing two-part abstractions that seem to grope their way into existence like some organic thing; and William Y. Cooper's bright and jolly rehash of synthetic cubism. Alfonso Volo reappears at this venue (he's also at Hallwalls) with more varied modified objects and many small paintings, a number precisely depicting humanized microscopic creatures.

Up north at Castellani Art Museum, tiny creatures were getting quite a different treatment. The big inkjet prints of Julian Montague show composite views of insects rendered in sleek abstract formats. He was joined by Eric Glavin, who used mundane Toronto architecture to make appealing abstractions that coyly denied their painterly state by being executed as digital prints on canvas. Edward J. Luce's paintings are free reveries on off-beat gay meeting places like rest stops and backwoods haunts. Perhaps meant whimsically, his display of color-coded baseball caps nonetheless created a new form of sexual signal not seen since the 1970s handkerchief code.

In addition to Volo's witty, casually formed objects and Marc Bohlen's charmingly quixotic "Two Whistling Machines" at Burchfield-Penney, sculpture of the big, constructed sort got a boost at Buffalo Arts Studio in Stephanie Ashenfelder's smart "The Prothetics of War." Video, too, came into its own this round with hilarious tapes by Jody Lafond and compelling abstractions by Meg Knowles.

As at some of the previous venues, video monitors show cartoon heads knocking away at cartoon walls at Buffalo Arts Studio and Castellani. A connecting motif of the show, these are John Knetch's reminder that there may just be some degree of frustration with the current American political scene.


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