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Experts discuss role of art, promote collaborative exhibit

Several years ago, Holly Hughes, a curator for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, heard from a friend calling on behalf of a 21-year-old man with a brain tumor who was about to die.

The terminally ill man had one request -- to see Adolph Gottlieb's "Dialogue 1" one last time.

Hughes and others got out the painting, which had not been on display, and had it set up for the young man the next morning. He and his family came to the museum and looked at the painting for about 20 minutes.

The young man died a few days later, and viewing the painting would be one of the family's final memories with him. This, Hughes said, is one reason why art matters.

Hughes spoke Tuesday during "Why Do the Arts Matter?" -- a session of the weekly Imagining Buffalo discussions in the Central Library in downtown Buffalo. Joining Hughes was Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institute.

The two shared their perspectives on why art matters and promoted their collaborative exhibit, "Abstraction in America," featuring abstract art from American artists created during the 1970s and 1980s, which will run all summer at Chautauqua.

Hughes was the replacement speaker for Louis Grachos, outgoing director of Albright-Knox.

Kimes noted that during his yearly travels to Pompeii he makes a point of visiting the frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries. The paintings, created more than 2,000 years ago, give him goose bumps every time.

"I can walk in there as a person in the 21st century and be blown away," he said. "That's the power of art."

Hughes and Kimes first met over lunch to discuss a collaboration between Albright-Knox and Chautauqua. They said they settled on abstract art because it is the heart of the Albright-Knox's collection and a form of art that is often met with questions and misunderstanding.

People frequently ask what they are supposed to see in abstract paintings, or what the painting is supposed to be about, Kimes said. But other art forms like music are rarely met with that question. The beauty of abstract art, he said, is that "it is what it is."