Long Story Short: Scary stuff

7/16/18



illustration by JP Thimot

 

Bear wars

Alert citizens of Amherst and nearby environs had been reporting a black bear roaming around the area for several weeks. The furry wanderer was drawing all kinds of attention from police, media, and the public as it sporadically popped up in various locales. Articles appeared in the media about how not to inadvertently feed bears. Authorities expressed hope that the animal would find it’s way out of town before there was some sort of human tragedy.

 

But, in the end, it was the bear who was no match for the perils of Amherst. The animal was hit by a car on the I-990 Expressway and injured. When the police next spotted it, around Renaissance Drive and Covent Garden Lane, one leg was dragging. To make matters worse, the bear had wandered into a highly populated area. So, Amherst police made the decision to shoot the animal, or, as they like to say on WKBW, euthanize it.

 

During his travels, the bear had attracted quite a following. After his death, a makeshift memorial materialized near where the ill-fated animal was shot (I am not kidding here). WIVB linked news of the memorial to its Facebook page, and an angry virtual mob formed to voice their opinions and concerns. A few blamed the death on the police for not having an emergency bear plan to deal with these animals, which show up now and then in the Northtowns. Others blamed the Department of Environmental Conservation for not acting sooner to trap and relocate or rehabilitate the bear. Still others felt killing the black bear was defensible since police thought he was reaching for a weapon (okay, I am kidding here, but some did adopt a pro-bear-death attitude). Several commenters said that the standoff would have ended differently if it was a white bear (back to not kidding).

 

Here’s a quote from WIBV news: “Amherst Police told News 4 they did not consult with the DEC before pulling the trigger, however, DEC officials say they did not direct the police to kill the bear.” Don’t ask, don’t tell; got it.

 

Bear wars II

It was utter chaos as about 1,300 people crowded the entrance to Build-A-Bear in the Walden Galleria mall. The occasion was a “pay-your-age” promotion, which attracted hordes of kids and their parents, all shoving and yelling to get into the store, which sells custom teddy bears and other stuffed animals. According to the Buffalo News, Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack said seven different law enforcement agencies had to be called in to control the mob. He added that police were taken off other duties, causing a public safety issue. Build-A-Bear at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA fared better, with about half the customers.

 

Police brought order to the moppet crew, and many accepted a fifteen dollar gift certificate and left, rather than waiting. Those that stayed, were let into the store slowly. It was unpleasant, but they just had to grin and bear it.

 

 

Dear Mr. Paladino,

Having recently learned of your willingness to allow inexperienced but enthusiastic proletarian artists to repair historically important works of architecture, I am wondering if you could help me with a project I have in mind. You are no doubt aware that a drunk driver hit and severely damaged the fountain at Gates Circle in 2015. That it is still not repaired nearly three years later is a source of constant annoyance for me. I mean, wasn’t the driver insured? Can’t the city come up with the cash to fix this eyesore? Anyway, I am something of an artist myself, and though I have no training or experience with public architectural features, I do possess the requisite enthusiasm and good intentions. Having no expertise with granite, I propose to replace the stonework with concrete, and I figure I can fix the bronze light post with Bondo car body filler.

 

I understand that, unlike the Ellicott Square Building, you do not own Gates Circle, but I’m hoping that you can use your well-known influence with city officials to make this happen. I feel confident that you understand the need to bypass the Buffalo Preservation Board review process. We don’t want their pesky red tape and highfalutin art standards standing in the way of our creative impulses. You understand this, I’m sure.

 

Please let me know when I can start working on the fountain repair.

Yours truly,

Bruce

 

Scary Lucy, meet happy Mercury

By now, many readers will have heard that twenty-three-year-old Alphonso Butlak IV created a replacement head for a neoclassical sculpture of the Roman god Mercury, which has long been in place above the Washington Street entrance of the Ellicott Square Building. You may also know that local architectural historians and preservationists are not pleased with the result, or the failure of the Ellicott Development Company, which owns the building, to go through the mandated review process for significant changes to structures within a preservation district.

 

Those speaking publicly on the matter have expressed admiration for Butlak’s confidence and enthusiasm in taking on such a high-profile responsibility while still a teenager. (It was 2014 when he first received permission from Ellicott Development founder Carl Paladino for the restoration attempt.) While Long Story Short appreciates artistic chutzpah, we also understand that when you put yourself out there as an artist, you open yourself up to criticism. The level of critical scrutiny increases with the status of the art milieu. In terms of importance, a historical architectural landmark restoration is near the top.

 

An art educator’s view

Butlak’s artwork, posted online since his two-year stint at Villa Maria College is strong, if inconsistent. His drawings range from fantasy illustration to somewhat strained naturalistic renderings. Some are quite good. To his credit, Butlak seems to be creating artful objects nonstop, and he possesses a fertile imagination. But he hasn’t settled yet on where he wants to focus his skills, which is necessary to achieve greater success. The Ellicott Development website has a story about Butlak and the Mercury head he sculpted, which states, “…this is the first statue Butlak has ever made.”  And that’s exactly what it looks like, the initial attempt of a talented, but inexperienced, amateur.

 

An art critic’s analysis

As an art critic, I feel obliged to comment on the Mercury head. Butlak makes several errors common to beginners. Nowhere is this more evident than with the eyes, which are misshapen and two-fifths too small for the size of the face, giving it a bug-eyed appearance. Hair is another challenge. The original sculpture had curly locks cascading from under Mercury’s helmet. The hair on Butlak’s work looks like one of those molded plastic wig helmets the band DEVO used to wear. Speaking of helmets, the front brim of Mercury’s original headgear almost reached the overhang above, tilting subtly downward toward the rear. Butlak’s brim has twice the diameter and lies flat on the head like an asymmetrical stuffed medieval headpiece or sausage halo. On Butlak’s Instagram profile, he refers to the statue as an angel, suggesting that he did not research the work he was restoring, which would have informed the look of the helmet.

 

The new face appears substantially shorter than the original, throwing it out of proportion to the body. It’s also frozen in a forward stare, unlike the original, which turns gracefully to the left. The installers did Butlak no favors either. While attaching the new head they smoothed the original sculpture’s clavicle into nonexistence. Butlak himself eliminated Mercury’s thyroid cartilage, so the overall effect is that of an overlong linebacker’s neck plastered onto a featherweight’s body, holding a squat head.

 

The original mouth had full, slightly parted, sensual lips; one might describe them as puffy. The new head has a peculiar chiseled grin, with a markedly thin upper lip upturned at the corners. The best thing you can say about this is that Mercury now seems happy to be guarding the door. In the annals of regional sculptural missteps, Happy Mercury will make a good discussion companion for Scary Lucy.

 

The takeaway:

Evidently unaware that you cannot alter historical architecture, Batlak states, “My goal is to create historic folks of Buffalo that would be placed around the whole perimeter of the roof of the Ellicott Square Building.” One of the tricks of being a successful artist is to develop self-awareness, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. You must also learn what is—and isn’t—possible. Normally, an untested college student offering to restore an architectural treasure would be politely informed as to the necessity for specialized skills and experience for such a job, and of the required Preservation Board review process. No harm in asking: life lesson learned.

 

Unfortunately for Batlak, he happened to talk to the one person with sufficient disregard for such expertise and procedure. The damage caused by the installers will add to the eventual cost of properly restoring the sculpture.

 

 

Guilty

The verdict was guilty on all counts in the Buffalo Billion corruption trial of Buffalo-based Louis Ciminelli, the former president of LPCiminelli contractors, and Syracuse-area developers Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi. Close Andrew Cuomo associate, Alain Kaloyeros, who was hand-picked by the Governor to oversee distribution of the Buffalo Billion, was also convicted in the New York City trial. Ciminelli and Kaloyeros were found guilty of rigging the bidding process of Buffalo's RiverBend industrial project so that only Ciminelli qualified.

 

But that’s not the real story

You probably already knew this, and the trial and guilty verdicts are not the most interesting part of the story. They probably are not even surprising to many; corruption in New York among developers is widely seen as how business is done.

 

This is about the First Amendment, and the role of journalists and the press in a healthy democracy. Jim Heaney is editor and executive director of Investigative Post, the only Western New York news organization dedicated exclusively to watchdog journalism. It was Heaney who did the investigative work that drew the attention of The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.

 

Following a tip, Heaney obtained the request for proposal (RFP) on the RiverBend project, and noticed that the applicants required fifty years’ experience, an eligibility condition that only Ciminelli met. When Heaney dug deeper, the state stonewalled. This lack of transparency was the subject of an early article, and the District Attorney took it from there.

 

The takeaway:

This can’t be said enough: it’s the role of the media to challenge the government.    

 

 

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

 

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