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Let's get visual Art exhibits large and small take center stage in Western New York

When fall rolls around, the museums and galleries of Western New York get a healthy shot of adrenaline.

During this humdrum summer of economic uncertainty and torrential downpours, the region's cultural engines chugged away undaunted through a healthy stream of summertime festivals, inspired exhibitions and big-budget productions. But now, as the chill of autumn sets in and the arts scene presses ahead with big-time plans for the coming year, our boisterous summer of arts activity starts to look like a drawn-out yawn in comparison.

Nowhere is the creative jolt that accompanies fall more evident than on the jumping visual arts scene, which at the moment is so jam-packed with intriguing shows, projects and collaborative ventures that even the most dedicated gallerygoer would be hard-pressed to catch them all before they close. But that shouldn't stop you from trying.

Use this overview -- by no means comprehensive -- to get familiarized with a few of the current exhibitions scattered around Western New York, from the Castellani Art Museum in Niagara Falls to Allentown's small grass-roots gallery Sugar City.

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"Arts in Craft Media" Through Jan. 3, 2010 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (1300 Elmwood Ave.) 878-6011 or www.yournewburchfieldpenney.org

As the one-year anniversary of the Burchfield Penney Art Center's opening approaches, the museum has dedicated the lion's share of its space to a sprawling show that focuses on the wildly diverse endeavors of regional artists who use media associated with the craft arts.

The name of the show, about as unsexy as exhibition titles get, shouldn't deter you. All the kitschy connotations of the "craft art" label vanish upon entering the Burchfield Penney's East Gallery -- no less awe-inspiring on the 20th viewing than the first. On the path to the gallery, you're greeted by the curiously modified books of Josef Bajus, which jut out of the wall like half-living creatures of cloth and paper.

The main gallery itself teems with intriguing pieces, from surrealistic assemblages by Richard and Kevin Kegler to the meticulous work of artists like Robert L. Wood and Nancy Belfer. And glance, if you dare, at the disturbing cone-shaped sculptures of Paul Sherman, which evoke the vagina dentata of folklore in ways better seen than described.

Highlights include a hanging piece made out of disintegrating window screens by Andrea Marquis, an immense column of half-chalices crafted from porcelain by Kala Stein and, finally, Alicia Eggert's "Coffee Cup Conveyor Belt," a twee but nonetheless effective statement on consumerism and the environment.

The show, more than presenting an impressive collection of work by accomplished local artists, challenges audiences to inhabit the murky space between craft and art. Not a bad place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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"Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad" through Oct. 17 at the University at Buffalo Art Gallery (UB North Campus, Amherst). 645-6913 or www.ubartgalleries.org

In an exhibition that began with a residency at CEPA Gallery in 2000, photographer Stephen Marc presents a compelling look at the living history of the Underground Railroad.

The show, which straddles the line between art and documentary but leans heavily on the latter, takes viewers on a visually loaded trip through Underground Railroad sites across the United States. Marc has photographed a huge variety of spaces, from Baptist churches in Detroit and Buffalo to safe-houses along the Canadian border where thousands of escaped slaves ended their long and often grueling journeys out of bondage.

Marc's series of ruminative photo-montages reflect on the epic scale of escaped slaves' journeys from the Antebellum South to freedom. They strive to represent both the grandness and urgency of that passage and the claustrophobic detail of the spaces themselves, a mission they achieve with varied success.

Marc's pieces sometimes overwhelm us with visual detritus to the detriment of their message. But extensive wall text and an accompanying catalog with an excellent essay by Keith Griffler ensure that we'll walk away from "Passage on the Underground Railroad" with a sharpened understanding of one of the great underexplored stories in American History.

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"Joseph Bochynski: New Suburban Landscapes," through Oct. 2 at Sugar City (19 Wadsworth St.) www.myspace.com/sugarcity

"Write what you know."

So goes the timeworn adage, barked at aspiring Salingers and Nabokovs by writing instructors the world over. Joe Bochynski, whose first solo show is up at Sugar City for the next few days, has applied that nugget of wisdom to painting.

"However romantic cornfields are, or cityscapes, I don't know the first thing about them," Bochynski said. His home territory is the strip mall and the parking lot, and, at least for this exhibition, that's where he's happily entrenched.

Bochynksi, born and bred in the quintessentially suburban environs of Snyder, has produced a series of acrylics that document the everyday scenes of that endlessly replicated landscape. There are high-tension wires, gas station parking lots, retail facades -- all the bland visual vocabulary Americans spend most of their waking hours consuming but rarely considering.

The paintings are rendered unsentimentally in muted colors, directly from photographs, many of which were shot from a car. Those photographs are collected in a book at the front of the room, which provides a telling glimpse into his dispassionate process. In essence, Bochynski simply looks, photographs and paints what's there.

Bochynski's work focuses our attention on the mundane, filtering it through his own washed out, paint-by-numberish technique and thus lending it a sense of nostalgia and intrigue that a mere drive through Amherst couldn't in itself evoke.

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"Heather Cox: New Work," through Oct. 14 at Nina Freudenheim Gallery (140 North St.). 882-5777 or www.ninafreudenheimgallery.com

Art lovers with a sweet tooth are advised to eat before entering the Nina Freudenehim Gallery for this weirdly delectable show of recent work by New York-based artist Heather Cox. Known for her hanging silhouettes made out of black tissue paper, Cox has turned her fascination with the human body into a quasi-creepy experiment involving tiny, multicolored nonpareil candies.

For this show, Cox has hand-stitched the shapes of various skeletal forms -- a spinal cord, an animal's claw, a brain -- into plastic sheets. The stitched patterns are filled with tiny, rainbow-colored candy balls, creating a bizarre but somehow playful juxtaposition of anatomy and appetite. Her triumph is a meticulously stitched, candy-filled human skeleton which begs to be seen.

Cox also presents a creepy installation consisting of a wall full of gift bows, each printed with images of human eyes. On the opposite wall hangs a series of self-portraits of the artist, with alternating body parts liberated from the second dimension with an X-Acto knife.

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"Andy Warhol: A Photographic Legacy" and "Last Supper Mural Project, through Jan. 31, 2010, at the Castellani Art Museum (Niagara University). 286-8200 or www.niagara.edu/cam

Leave it to Niagara University's Castellani Museum, on the grounds of one of Western New York's most auspicious Catholic institutions, to highlight the little-known religious devotion of Andy Warhol. In an exhibition centered around a recent gift of several original Warhol Polaroids from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Castellani seeks to draw connections between the famed artist's eccentric accomplishments and his Catholic faith.

The show features Polaroid photos of such famous figures as Ron Regan Jr., Liza Minnelli, Steve Rubell and Iranian princess Farah Ashraf Pahlavi, which Warhol used as studies for other works. The museum has beefed up the exhibition with other Warhol holdings from its permanent collection.

The key to the show, however, is a large-scale re-creation of one of Warhol's "Last Supper" pantings, which is gradually being completed by NU students. It's a worthy pair of exhibitions that, in their understated way, illuminate a new facet of Warhol's life and work.

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Elsewhere:

*Don't miss two shows now at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave.), Lewis Colburn's "Interregnum (1815-1969)" and a series of performative videos by Alison S.M. Kobayashi, open through Oct. 23.

*The Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda (240 Goundry St.) hosts a two exhibitions, Gary L. Wolfe's "Dimensional Transitions," through Oct. 31, and Dorothy Fitzgerald's "Who Would Like to See Mary Again, through Oct. 10.

*Buffalo Arts Studio (2495 Main St., Suite 500) presents Ricardo Miranda Zuniga's "Breaking News," a reflection on the way events travel through the news media, a solo show of work by performance artist Charmaine Wheatley and the second members' exhibition of the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative.

*"Conversation Pieces," an epic show at CEPA Gallery (617 Main St.), runs through Dec. 19.

*"Ecologies of Decay," a three-part exhibition featuring the work of artists Dennis Maher, Julian Montague and J-M Reed at Artspace (1219 Main St.) through Oct. 19.

*The Olean Public Library (134 N. 2nd St., Olean) features photographic work by Buffalo artist Hans Gindlesberger, through Oct. 24.

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