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Exhibition transforms Botanical Gardens into a temporary art gallery

Three “glacial boulders,” created from weathering steel, were removed from wooden pallets and placed into position Tuesday on the front lawn of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Bright blue logs, meanwhile, were on the other side of the walkway, where they soon will be put together to form a 25-foot sculpture on the other side of the main entrance.

The two pieces are among approximately 15 sculptures – many made up of multiple pieces – that have been strategically placed around the grounds of the gardens. Some will dangle from ceilings by the time installation is completed.

It’s all part of a new exhibition by Shayne Dark that will transform the Botanical Gardens into an art gallery for an ambitious five-month exhibition overseen by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. “Shayne Dark: Natural Conditions” will remain on view through Oct. 4.

The project is part of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s public art collaboration with Erie County and the City of Buffalo, which is designed to put more residents of Erie County in contact with the work of contemporary artists. As part of the show, Dark, of Kingston, Ont., also will return for a one-week residency Sept. 14-20, when the public can watch as he creates a sculpture from local material with the help of assistants.

“Our hope is that the exhibition draws attention to how special this place really is,” said Aaron Ott, the gallery’s public art curator. “Obviously, this place in the winter is killer. It’s another world. I feel like the Albright is that way, where you get to enter a new world when you go through the doors. This is really like that.”

Dark, whose bright blue sculpture made of painted driftwood was on view for several years on the north side of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (where Jaume Plensa’s sculpture “Laura” now sits), is already well known to Western New York art fans. He often uses bright colors or clearly man-made marks to modify natural materials, linking the worlds of nature and contemporary art.

Inside one of the Botanical Gardens’ humid plant houses, workers heaved up large black totem poles charred and chiseled to look like strange alien maps. Other spots around the gardens contained craggy pieces of apple wood that eventually will form a gigantic hanging chandelier and three bright red sculptures that look like combinations of tree roots and creatures from “War of the Worlds.”

“The nice thing about public art (is) you may drive by and see this large piece,” Dark said Tuesday. “Hopefully, it’s a beginning to let people think, stop ...”

Ott said that giving Dark an opportunity to transform the Botanical Gardens into a temporary art space was “a no-brainer.”

“I think why Aaron chose me as the first artist to do this is because all my art is related to nature,” Dark said. He said the exhibition space is ideal for bringing together two different crowds that share a certain affinity for visual beauty.

“What’s really exciting for me is the marrying of the two,” he said. “Both audiences that go to arboretums and go to the galleries, they’re both sympathetic to both art forms, and I think it’s a marvelous marriage.”

For David Swarts, who has led the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens since 2011, the collaboration with the Albright-Knox is a way to build the gardens’ attendance – a key goal for the institution. The organization receives only 8 percent of its annual budget from public sources, Swarts said.

“A lot of our visitors would appreciate the artistic beauty of the botanical as well as the artistic beauty of the kinds of things that the other artists do. It’s great for them. It’s great for us, because it appeals to a different audience,” he said. “We need to expand our base, so you have to come up with different ways of encouraging people to come in.”


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