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Five fascinating Buffalo art shows

As the culture-packed summer of 2013 drags into its dog days and the prospect of stepping into the stifling air to attend a free concert loses some of its perennial luster, it’s natural to seek out a bit of respite.

And for anyone inclined to look, few places provide a better opportunity to while away a sweltering afternoon than one of Western New York’s dozens of serene, white-walled and usually air-conditioned art spaces.

This summer, Buffalo’s sprawling visual arts scene offers almost limitless possibilities, from Charles Burchfield’s magnificent visions of the summer skyscape in the Burchfield Penney Art Center to a series of nature-inspired reveries on the walls of Allentown’s Indigo Art gallery.

Whatever your preference – be it painting or sculpture, abstraction or realism – there’s more than enough on view here to keep you busy until well after the chill of fall sets in. Here’s a look at just a few shows worth catching, some of which are in their final weeks:

“Katherine Sehr: The Linear Truth”

Through July 26 in Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 140 North St. 882-5777 or

Sehr, whose work has transfixed local art connoisseurs for years, belongs to a particular and fascinating subset of artists who seem driven by some elemental compulsion to make their work. Her paper drawings contain nothing but intricate scribbles, set down in intricate patterns that take time to complete. Her work is as much about the final product – which in this show is as beautiful as you might hope – as it is about the obsessive and poetic process of its creation. The pieces are records of the time and thought Sehr poured into them, self-contained narratives of frenetic effort and energy written in a secret script.

Unlike some of Sehr’s recent work that’s been on view in the Burchfield Penney Art Center and elsewhere, the pieces in Nina Freudenheim’s space are smaller and less imposing. While they lack the overwhelming qualities of her larger projects, they are equally impressive aesthetically. Her work is playful in the way Keith Haring’s work is playful – something to do with the rounded edges of lines and the way they seem on the verge of becoming letters or symbols – but peculiarly studied in a way that belongs exclusively to Sehr.

In some of her new drawings, Sehr uses two colors adjacent to one another on the color wheel. Little tendrils of blue or maroon extend up or down into seas of green or purple like little strands of DNA, revealing the surprisingly freehand nature of her drawing process.

This lovely, intoxicating work begs the viewer to peer closely into it as one might peer up into the night sky, and to contemplate the unique talent that created it.

“Charles E. Burchfield: Oh My Heavens”

Through Aug. 4 in the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave. 878-6011 or

The night sky was a source of endless wonder and intrigue for watercolor painter Burchfield, whose sketches and paintings are the focus of this extraordinary show in the museum that carries his name. It was organized by the Burchfield Penney’s Tullis Johnson and Alana Ryder along with Kevin Williams, director of the Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium at Buffalo State College.

Burchfield’s fascination with the cosmos and with questions of our place in the universe, a fact honored by the inclusion of the constellation Orion in the ceiling of the Burchfield Penney’s second-floor reception space, has never been the subject of a major exhibition. With ample grace, this show demonstrates the centrality of celestial bodies to Burchfield’s work, from his extraordinary 1917 painting “Orion and the Moon,” on temporary loan from a private collection, to his studies and sketches for works concerned with the placement of stars and planets.

Stargazers will love the information Williams provides about the specific constellations and moon phases Burchfield refers to in his paintings, while art fans will find plenty to love in Burchfield’s boundless curiosity about the universe that surrounds him. One of the biggest surprises is an undated graphite drawing called “Untitled (Harmony With God)” that shows a figure standing with his arms extended while the cosmos swirls around him. It’s as if this lonely figure was trying to absorb it all into his soul. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what Burchfield was trying to do.

“I feel that I could sense more of infinity and God,” he wrote in one representative journal entry, “through looking up into this night willow than if I sailed to Jupiter and beyond in a spaceship.” Through this excellent show, we can sense that wonder, too.


“Robert Therrien”

Through Oct. 27 in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. 882-8700 or

Many visitors to the Albright-Knox know the work of Therrien from his overwhelming sculpture of an amplified card table and folding chairs, a source of wonder for some and dismay for others who prefer more traditional modes of artmaking. Heather Pesanti’s gorgeous, spare retrospective of work by the Los Angeles-based artist occupies half of the gallery’s original building and traces Therrien’s trajectory with a grace and understatement befitting the work.

It begins with his minimalist works on paper and small sculptures of chapels, snowmen and other objects derived from elemental shapes like the sphere or the triangle. We then see his logical evolution of those forms into large-scale sculptures, such as a massive wooden table jutting out from the gallery wall, a towering stack of blue cereal bowls and a shimmering metal oil can that stretches more than 11 feet into the air.

From the room containing that oil can, we can gaze across a mostly empty main space punctuated by Therrien’s sculpture of black clouds with faucets attached and an outsize metal pitcher and into another gallery that contains the Albright-Knox’s familiar table and chairs. That view, which should provoke wonder and intrigue in all but the most jaded museum-goer, is almost better than seeing the work up close.

“Summer in the City”

Through Aug. 2 in Indigo Art, 74 Allen St. 984-9572.

Visions of open fields, serene skies and a few less savory images will linger in your head after a visit to the cool, compact Indigo gallery, where a group show of summer-themed work is on view.

Susan Copley’s wispy abstract paintings could show violent waves crashing in the open sea or wheat blowing in a vast field – the choice is up to the viewer. Monica Angle’s more graceful monoprints in pastel tones evoke half-obscured, half-remembered landscapes that, as in a large piece called “Across the Flats,” serve as perfect projection screens for the imagination.

Augustina Droze, an artist known for her accomplishments in outdoor mural work, is showing a series of five insect-based paintings. In three of them, various creepy crawlers have been arranged in the circular pattern of a Buddhist or Hindu mandala, perhaps an attempt to evoke some connection between nature and spirituality.

Felice Koenig’s series of small cubes, attached directly to the wall and featuring indentations set off by many layers of paint, are cute in their way, but lack the bubbling allure of her larger paintings. And several paintings by Ruth McCarthy, especially the otherworldly “Red Tress,” are blurry landscapes that linger in the mind.


Through Aug. 10 in CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St. 856-2717 or

Buffalo-based photographer Marshall Scheuttle has spent the last six years or so lugging his heavy, large-format camera across the United States. He’s captured scenes of domestic life and carnival culture, rural enclaves and suburban streetscapes. Technically, his work is gorgeous. The enormous, clear and vibrant prints of his photographs bring their subjects to life in ways a computer or television screen could not possibly duplicate.

The exhibition, which occupies all three floors of CEPA Gallery in the Market Arcade, is best approached as a visual poem, the meaning of which can be drawn out only with repeated viewings. Scheuttle was very specific about the positioning and layout of the images, though he intentionally kept them without labels or or wall text in order to prod the viewer to make his or her own connections.

What does a scene of a river baptism have to do with another of a pristine pool of water beneath a highway overpass? Why is a shot of animal heads lining the wall of an otherwise cookie-cutter office in the company of a portrait of a boy dressed up in Civil War garb in the midst of what looks to be a battle re-enactment? We can guess, and it’s fun to do.

What comes through from viewing the entire body of work is a kind of American optimism that seems to be carried over from an earlier time. You can see it in the facial expressions of many of Scheuttle’s subjects and in the places he’s chosen to photograph. In this trip across the United States, to rodeos, backyards, misty forests and carpeted living rooms, Scheuttle gives us a lyrical snapshot of our country at this exact moment. And, despite our mounting worries over issues domestic and foreign, this body of work seems to vaguely reassure us that things are going to be OK.