"Frederick Wright Jones: The First Meeting of the NRAACP -- in My Head"
Through April 17 in Big Orbit Gallery, 30 Essex St. 560-1968 or www.bigorbitgallery.org.
With this alternately humorous and disturbing installation, Frederick Wright Jones, a graduate student in the University at Buffalo's visual studies department, makes a loud and compelling statement about the complex connections between gun ownership and race.
Jones has set up an actual organization under the professed purpose of joining people of different racial and economic backgrounds together to combat the scourge of gun violence. That he has given his organization the provocative title of "National Rifle Association for the Advancement of Colored People" should clue you in to just how serious he is about his actual prospects for making a dent in that goal.
The exhibition sets up a number of interesting dichotomies in interesting ways. On two tables, a pair of blaring radios face each other. One is tuned to local country station WYRK and the other to local hip hop station WBLK. The effect is a jumble of sound that makes a comment on the pervading debate about gun violence and race, which is often uselessly vitriolic and unintelligible.
Jones really shows his ability to get under the skin of the debate in his disturbing tableau of ash-smudged puppets on a raised stage, each representing a significant political or historical figure (there's Gandhi, Dick Cheney, George Washington and one that looks like Moammar Gadhafi) hoisting rifles and handguns. Behind that are two video projections, one featuring an urban stretch of Buffalo and the other a rural road.
This must-see show goes much deeper, of course, into ideas of historical continuity and the politics and history of black identity. But its strength comes from the way in which Jones characterizes the seemingly intractable debate over these issues. His contribution to that debate, be it arch or serious, is a significant one.
"William W. DuBois: Bedpan Elegance"
Through April 14 in Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 140 North St. 882-5777 or www.ninafreudenheimgallery.com.
Sometimes, as this exhibition of pristine photographs by William W. DuBois at Nina Freudenheim Gallery shows, a bedpan is not just a bedpan. According to the artist, who collects bedpans avidly, and unlikely as it may seem, it is an object of immense abstract beauty and a container for notions about form, function and design.
Viewers of the show may wrinkle their noses at that notion, given how impossible it is to flush one's mind of the inevitable associations that will come up when contemplating DuBois' photographs. Certainly the large-scale works are beautifully photographed, with crisp colors and lighting that serves to highlight the practical elegance of their design. And, given the subject matter, it would be easy to see the artist as a participant in the artistic tradition kicked off by Marcel Duchamp, whose 1917 piece "Fountain" was simply an unmodified urinal slapped with a title and repurposed as art.
The exhibition is also an opportunity to reflect on the nature of collecting and the unexpected associations that can be brought out by the photographer's eye. DuBois sees beauty where most would avert their gaze.
"The Automatiste Revolution"
Through May 30 in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. 882-8700 or www.albrightknox.org.
This stunning exhibition of work by a group of Montreal-based artists known as the "Automatistes" is, among other things, a convincing argument about the role of geography in the art world. It matters immensely, of course, as any regional artist toiling away outside New York City can tell you. But in "The Automatiste Revolution," in which we see the best work of a Canadian abstract art movement of surprising depth and breadth which developed in the 1940s, we see that it clearly shouldn't.
The show contains excellent paintings from the likes of the movement's founder, Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Claude Gauvreau, Marcel Barbeau and several others, along with a room of work by abstract expressionists in the Albright-Knox collection that helps viewers explore the formal similarities and differences between the concurrent movements. This exhibition is more than a rewarding look across the border -- it's a vital glimpse into one of the most overlooked chapters in 20th century art.