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Plenty of 'Moxie' ; Burchfield celebrates donations of works by regional artists

The girl in the portrait sits absent-mindedly by the side of the road. Flanking her nimble and capricious body is a cup of Tim Hortons coffee. A constant presence to temper her volatile thoughts, the cup is not only a symbol of Buffalo culture, but it's representative of artist Amanda Besl's loyalty to Western New York.

Her piece, titled "Decaffeinated," is part of the Burchfield Penney Art Center's new exhibition, "Moxie & Mayhem: Acquisitions for a New Museum." Besl, who has sprightly brown curls and a chatty, carefree demeanor, is practically a spokeswoman for the museum's mission to support and nurture regional artists.

"I'm an advocate for staying in Buffalo," Besl said. "Buffalo artists are really close -- everyone knows each other. It's amazing that you can go to pretty much any bar or coffee shop in town and see a local artist or musician and start having a conversation with them."

This sense of kinship among residents of a city -- whether it's made possible by a paintbrush or a Timbit -- runs parallel to the exhibition's theme: a celebration of the many donations the museum has received over the past three years. "Moxie & Mayhem" showcases more than 50 artists whose works, spanning from the late 19th century to today, have been donated to the museum.

"This exhibition is meant to show the depth of Western New York art," director Ted Pietrzak said. "It's really a snippet at what Western New York artists are doing and have done."

The exhibition's title, which refers to two works in the collection -- "Mayhem" by Nancy Dwyer and "Fool of Moxie in Tin Canoe" by Justine Kurland -- highlights some of the ways museums acquire their collections.

"We selected these two works of art to suggest an attitude about collecting and about the texture and breadth of art," Pietrzak said. "We chose 'Mayhem' because you have to understand the kind of chaos that goes on in art. Collections happen through the whims and wills of donors, and often you don't know who's going to call."

"Moxie" stands for just the opposite -- the calculated planning and spunk necessary to pull together a great collection. "We're suggesting boldness," Pietrzak said. "Going out there, hunting things down and being passionate about them."

He said he likes that these works demonstrate recurring themes in the business. "Both seem to characterize certainly not the standard approach to museum-collecting, but aspects you should take into account."

The images in Besl's works are in line with that spirit. She says that the girls she portrays are quintessential products of teenage moxie and mayhem.

"Often during those years, you sort of do what you feel like doing," Besl said. "You might just plop down on the curb with a cup of coffee. It shows a purity of spirit."

In her artistic statement, Besl writes that her work is an attempt to "partake in the secretive world that engulfs today's girl." For that reason, the paintings are small in size to allow for more intimacy when viewing them. They pop out from the wall off beveled edges to suggest frozen snapshots in time.

Artist Peter Fowler, whose piece in the exhibition is a large figurative expressionist painting with a lot of "energetic brush strokes," says he finds the Buffalo arts scene ideal.

"It's important to know what you have in your own backyard," Fowler said. "In a lot of cities you're kind of following the fashions of who has the power to put your work in. Here it's different."

Bill Cooper, a local artist whose work addresses African-American issues, agrees.

"There are a lot of art lovers in Buffalo," he said. "People like art, they buy art, and are interested in putting it in their homes," he said.

Another of the center's new exhibitions is "Camaraderie: Burchfield, Cleveland, and New York." It explores the connections between Charles Burchfield and his colleagues. Besl is fascinated by how the dynamic between artists in different settings can influence the content of their work.

"As an artist, you try to respond to the times as well as to society," she said. "Burchfield was interacting with other artists, and it's really interesting to see how they communicated with each other."

"Camaraderie" is a glimpse into this kind of artistic network that is also evident in Buffalo. "There are so many artists with a Buffalo connection," Besl noted. "It's great when you meet artists who you didn't know had connections to the community. You want to research them and find out more."

Besl hopes Buffalo artists will continue to bounce their ideas off one another as Burchfield and his colleagues did.

"It's very poetic," she said. "The world is becoming smaller as it becomes bigger."

e-mail: aeck@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

WHO: "Moxie & Mayhem: Acquisitions for a New Museum"    

WHEN: Through Sept. 5    

WHERE: Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave.    

INFO: 878-6011, www.burchfieldpenney.org

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