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illustration by JP Thimot


An unexpected confluence of events

Life is full of coincidences.


On Saturday, June 16, the Albright-Knox Art gallery (AKAG) presents Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective. Even those who don’t follow art know of Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. The iconic work began as a 1965 Christmas card commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art. Next came a painting. Indiana transformed the design into a massive sculpture in 1970, and a Love stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service in 1973. The image—never properly copyrighted—was appropriated by sixties hippie culture and quickly became a rip-off marketing sensation. But the artist, most associated with the pop art movement, did much more than Love over a career that spanned sixty years. The AKAG exhibition will offer a range of Indiana’s sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints.  


But there’s more

On May 14, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation announced that—in conjunction with Indiana’s retrospective exhibition at the AKAG—it would install the artist’s NUMBERS ONE through ZERO at Wilkeson Pointe, on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The ten 2,000-pound numbers—on loan from the AKAG—are made of Cor-Ten steel, a material that weathers over time into a rich red-brown patina. And they are big: eight feet tall, equally wide, with a forty-eight-inch depth. Robert Indiana will have a significant presence in Buffalo beginning in early June.


A lawsuit enters the picture

Indiana’s home is on an isolated island more than an hour’s ferry ride from Maine. In recent years, the reclusive artist had stopped communicating with friends, art world supporters, and business associates. On May 18, a lawsuit was filed, claiming that Indiana’s caretaker and Morgan Art Foundation Limited intentionally insulated the artist, while churning out and marketing fraudulent copies of his work. The Morgan company, of course, denies this, and says the artist just wanted to be left alone.


And then…

The next day, May 19, Robert Indiana died. He was 89.


The takeaway

The lawsuit will now turn on who has legal control over Indiana’s estate. It’s already clear that this is not going to be easily settled. In the meantime, visit the waterfront’s newest public sculpture after June 16, and check out the AKAG exhibition. Both take on added poignance in light of the artist’s death, and the legal battle ahead.   



School safety: raising the absurdity bar

Terrorism achieves its goal by sowing fear in the collective mind of the public. High-profile acts of violence trigger debilitating trepidation within society, even when—as is most often the case—individuals have a statistically slim chance of being targeted. School shootings are not, strictly speaking, acts of terrorism, because they have no political goals (at least none that extend beyond the politics of school life). But they spread irrational fear. When a student from Santa Fe High School was asked by an interviewer whether she was surprised by the recent attack on her school, she answered no: she had been expecting it; it was just a matter of time. That’s sad.


As I have written previously (in a 2003 Buffalo Spree article, and recently in this blog), in respect to student security, schools are perhaps the safest place children can be. (If you haven’t read the blog post on this topic, please click this link and learn the facts.) Outside school, it’s a different story. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention finds that, “Homicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 5-18. Data from this study indicate that between one percent and two percent of these deaths happen on school grounds or on the way to schools."  Considering how much time students spend “on school grounds or on the way to or from school,” it’s significant that ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent of student homicides take place when students are not in school. This is a fact, despite the recent spate of horrific school shootings.


Inevitably, when a high-profile act of school violence occurs, the media focuses on it for days, heightening the public’s anxiety. In recent years, schools have implemented a myriad of (mostly ineffective) security measures, and students now commonly participate in “active shooter drills.” All of this sends the wrong message. Children should know that, while incidents of school violence are horrific, they are statistically very rare. Students should be encouraged to help keep their school safe by sharing any signs of violent inclinations they see or hear. But a 2015 study conducted at the University at Buffalo found that implementing excessive security measures out of “fear generated by remote but high-profile events,” can “hinder teaching and learning.”



Lockport jumps the security shark

Next year the Lockport school district will be the first in the world to add a new super-high-tech “defense” system to its security arsenal. It’s a concept so absurd, it sounds like a joke—facial recognition and tracking software. Lockport is blowing its entire $1.4 million-dollar one-time New York Smart Schools bond funding (intended for classroom technology, Internet connectivity and security projects) on SN Technologies' Aegis facial recognition system. It’s part of a $2.75 million overall security program that will include 300 high-resolution video cameras. 300.


Lockport could have used these funds to provide state-of-the-art technology for student use. But according to an article in the Buffalo News, Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley says, "For the Board of Education and the Lockport City School District, this is the No. 1 priority: school security."


And here I thought education was a school’s number one priority.


So, what does the Aegis system do?

High-resolution cameras spot known bad guys whose picture have been programmed into the system. Yeah, that’s right; you have to know in advance who the bad guys are, and find a picture to program into the system. It can also recognize weapons held in plain view, but not ones concealed under the customary trench coat, or anywhere else.


Research has shown that such systems don’t perform reliably. There are numerous ways they can fail, the simplest being for the bad guy to keep his head down. And, of course, most school shootings are carried out by students who attend the school. Such assailants would breeze past surveillance cameras. Or, as in Sandy Hook, a gunman could fire through the door and shoot dozens of people before police arrive.


According to an article in the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, the Aegis system was initially pitched to awe-struck school officials by security consultant Tony Olivo, who appears to be something of a facial recognition salesperson for SN Technologies. It’s not hard to imagine the scene as Olivo warns anxious Lockport school officials that, “Ya got trouble—right here in River City!” Of course, other school districts naturally want to keep up with the Joneses; Depew is awaiting funding to get its very own facial recognition system.


It gets even better

In the Buffalo News article, Depew Superintendent Jeffrey R. Rabey reveals one ulterior motive for schools to camera-up, when he speaks of the system’s discipline potential. "If we had a student who committed some type of offense against the code of conduct, we can follow that student throughout the day to see maybe who they interacted with, where they were prior to the incident, where they went after the incident, so forensically we could also use the software in that capacity as well," he states.


So Big Brother really is watching. No one escapes the all-seeing surveillance eye, students and staff alike. In fact, the school can track every movement of anybody whose photo has been programmed into the system for up to sixty days. That should make everyone sleep better at night. 



Rivera en el canal

I remember the first time Good Night America, the late-night news magazine hosted by Geraldo Rivera, came on TV. Rivera looked like me in 1972: long hair, mustache, polyester clothes with floppy collars and wide lapels. On that first show, the lawyer-turned-newsman stared directly at viewers and promised a new kind of journalism for a new generation. And, for a while, he delivered on that promise. By the 1980s, Rivera had devolved into a purveyor of sensationalistic daytime tabloid TV. Today he is a commentator on Fox News, who can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth.


But to folks in the village of Medina, he’s a superstar.


The details:

Rivera is an avid sailor, so when word spread that he was traveling from New York to Cleveland on the Erie Canal, all the little towns along the way were wondering where (and if) the radio and TV star might stop.


Friday, May 18: Medina residents Ken Daluisio, Chris Busch, and Kathy Blackburn printed a professional-looking sign that read, “Hey Geraldo! STOP HERE! Historic Medina, NY.” Blackburn—who works for the Medina Waterfront Development Committee—headed down to the canal with another resident, Bob Sanderson, who brought along a Puerto Rican flag to entice Rivera (who has always played up his Latino heritage). The Medina effort paid off. 


Rivera and his crew docked at Medina and headed to Fitzgibbons Celtic Pub to tape a live segment for the Hannity show that night. The piece was about school shootings. Rivera, a moderate “law-and-order” Republican, argued that every school should have metal detectors, armed resource officers, a single access (which most already have), and be basically be turned into armed holding-centers with federal oversight. Then he closed with one of the most overused clichés: “Children are our most precious resource.”


By all accounts, Rivera and his crew were extremely friendly and kind to the people of Medina. After the broadcast, as he stepped out onto Main Street, Rivera paused to look the town over. The Daily News quotes Chris Busch as saying, “As Geraldo took it in, he exclaimed, ‘This is like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life!’ It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Busch. Blackburn added, “It was a great night for Medina and a great week for the Erie canal.”  Then Rivera was off to Tonawanda.


Good Night America indeed.



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.



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