"The Artists Among Us II," through Aug. 26 in Burchfield Penney Art Center (1300 Elmwood Ave., 878-6011).
There's something intoxicating about walking into the Burchfield Penney Art Center's east gallery and seeing the work of 665 visual artists in a kaleidoscopic array along the curve of its towering white wall. This overwhelming visual sensation is the foremost achievement of "The Artists Among Us II," the Burchfield Penney's second members' exhibition. A grandiose display of Western New York's creative output, it is also a declaration -- the latest in a series -- of the museum's oversized dedication to Western New York artists.
It's best to treat this show as a low-pressure chance to survey a certain segment of artistic creation in Western New York, to marvel at its breadth and diversity, to latch on to new obsessions and soften your grip on old ones. Members' shows, large and small, are deeply personal affairs for which you need not dutifully examine every last painting and photograph. Just let your eye alight on an object that moves something in you, let it linger there for a few moments or more, and move on.
Here were a few of the many places mine landed:
"Swarm Complexity," an intricate sculpture by an artist identified as Formiers that evokes both a beehive and a wormhole. Sara M. Zak's painting "Upon the Exodus," which seems a potent meditation on blight and contains a dark and bubbling beauty. Perfect little trompe l'oeils by the master painter John Yerger and his gifted student Coni Minneci. Sean Huntington's ethereal watercolor of a sycamore tree. Bethany Krull's humorous and self-descriptive sculpture "Cricket Death Match." Ani Hoover's ominous square bed of flowers expertly sculpted from bicycle-tire rubber. These pieces, and so many more, add up to far more beauty and fascination than a single afternoon could possibly contain.
"Big John and Other Small Works," through May 27 in Indigo Art (74 Allen St., 984-9572).
John Dickson's work, on view in this small and transfixing exhibition in Elisabeth Samuels' Indigo gallery, is all about the ephemeral. His addictive sculptures, last seen locally at Big Orbit Gallery during Beyond/In Western New York 2010, strive for a perfect balance between blunt-force visual impact and the graceful depiction of ethereal phenomena -- like smoke, water and air -- with which he is preoccupied.
They achieve this in pieces like "Spitfire," an intentionally crude model of a descending plane trailing a long puff of exhaust crafted from a substance that looks like cotton candy. Or in his models of the Toronto's CN Tower, its needle caught in a majestically floating cloud, and another sculpture of nuclear cooling tanks (reminiscent of John Pfahl's photographic series on smokestacks) spewing gossamer steam into the air above. Dickson's most arresting piece in the show is his creepy "Crying Eye," set into the drywall so that it looks like part of the gallery. The eye literally wells up and weeps a single tear every minute or so. Like many of his best sculptures -- whether crafted from human hair, wood or glass -- the piece does everything it can to sink into its environment and to become in key ways indistinguishable from its surroundings while leaving an indelible impression.
With this work, some of the strongest I've seen in the routinely impressive Indigo, Dickson makes an elegant statement about the intersection between the natural and the man-made. His sculptures highlight and explore that point of contact, and the result is strange and beautiful to behold.
"Can't Stop Reiman," through June 29 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave., 854-1694).
As visitors enter the small gallery of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, they step onto a red carpet, which leads to a table holding several shiny silver trophies. A crude Stanley Cup sits next to a miniature of Tony Smith's famous "Cigarette" sculpture; the Vince Lombardi Trophy shares space with a truncated version of Brancusi's "Endless Column."
The piece, like most of the photographs, sculptures and videos in this arresting exhibition, comes off at first as a cheap gag but then gives way to deeper meaning. In its rather blunt way, Reiman's piece points to the connections between art and sports and seems to suggest that they are more numerous and varied than either the sports or art worlds might like to admit. This is subversive in its way, and welcome.
The rest of the exhibition does the same strange connection-making: between blinged-out hip-hop idols and American revolutionaries in his "G. Washington" series of photographs; between David Lee Roth and Mark Rothko in a video that transposes a dancing Roth into the contemplative Rothko Chapel; and, similarly, in "Michael Jackson Pollock," which depicts an actor playing a hybrid of the pop star and artistic legend. Reiman's stuff is so wacky that it's hard not to fall in love with it.
The presence of an enormous sculpture of a Chevy Impala covered in felt and titled "Beuys N the Hood" -- a reference to both the felt-obsessed German artist Joseph Beuys and the somewhat less reputed 1991 film -- is maybe the most groan-worthy gag of all. But, given its implications about extending the traditional boundaries of art, it might also be the best.