A de facto highlight reel of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center’s illustrious history will be on display Thursday night in Asbury Hall, as the organization brings 40 pieces of art to the auction block for its 40th anniversary fundraiser.
Organizers of the auction, dubbed “Forty For Forty,” set out to include pieces from every decade of Hallwalls’ existence, ranging from its early days as a scraggly but serious artist-run gallery and hangout on Essex Street to its current incarnation in Ani DiFranco’s multipurpose Babeville.
“This could have been Four Hundred For Forty and it would still fall considerably short of fully representing the fullness of all those moments and all the tremendous artists who have passed through these walls,” Hallwalls curator John Massier wrote in a statement. “Accordingly, '40For40' is intended as a dynamic sampler, a small drop of a much, much larger pool.”
The auction will include pieces from all six of Hallwalls’ founding members, including a Robert Longo photograph of Cindy Sherman from the early 1980s, a recent untitled photograph by Sherman and a 2014 acrylic painting by Charles Clough from his “Cluffalo” series. Starting bids range from $100 for each of two works by early Hallwalls figure Diane Bertolo to $60,000 for Sherman’s photograph.
For longtime Hallwalls Executive Director Edmund Cardoni, the auction testifies not only to the institution’s importance on the local scene, but also to the national trajectory of art in the last part of the 20th century through today.
The contributions of Hallwalls’ founders and early exhibitors was captured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 exhibition “The Pictures Generation” as well as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s 2012 show “Wish You Were Here.”
“The artists who first started Hallwalls and moved on to New York, and who were embraced there as part of what’s come to be known as the Pictures Generation, had an important influence on the last quarter-century of 20th century art history,” Cardoni said. “That’s not exaggerated. That’s really accurate.”
But far from merely reveling in the venue’s ’70s heyday, Thursday’s auction strives to demonstrate the venue’s commitment to challenging and thought-provoking contemporary art in later decades. Work by acclaimed local artists A.J. Fries, Joan Linder, Rodney Taylor and Millie Chen appears alongside pieces by international artists Hallwalls has exhibited recently, including Pittsburgh-based filmmaker and sculptor Joshua Reiman and Miami-based artist Clifton Childree.
For Cardoni, the pioneering spirit Hallwalls’ founding artists is alive and well, both through their influence on future generations of artists and the continued health of the organization they founded.
“They created a model of how an organization could (and arguably should) work that made its mark on the art history of the last quarter of the 20th century, that set an example for other organizations that came later both in Buffalo and across the United States, and that still works today.”