Long Story Short: Paying the price
Artwork by Ulysses Atwhen
A re- by any other name
Call it what you want. If you don’t like the word renaissance, maybe resurgence works to describe this thing Buffalo is going through. Anyway, Jeffrey Wynn and his very wealthy brothers (Les and Paul, the rockin’ bros), want in on whatever it’s called. The Canadian real estate investors, with their purchase of the entire portfolio of Anthony Kissling, just became bigtime Buffalo Niagara real estate investors.
The former Kissling holdings include 841 apartments and 85,000 square feet of commercial space. So what, right? Real estate changes hands all the time. The Toronto family has been buying up chunks of Buffalo for a while. But here’s what makes it interesting: “I think the Buffalo market is a fantastic market,” Wynn said, in a recent Buffalo News article, “There’s a lot of investors that are looking at the Buffalo market, nationally and internationally.”
Wynn notes that many others are looking toward the Queen City as the next big thing. The Wynn Group recently sold its entire Toronto-area real estate portfolio for $1 billion dollars. (Toronto is so last century.) Now they are focusing attention on more affordable US markets, particularly Buffalo. “You see the renaissance now, but the next five years, you’re going to see a different Buffalo, a complete huge turnaround,” Wynn says in the Buffalo News article.
Despite its well-known dangers, we love the beautiful Zoar Valley. Here’s some good news: 600 more acres have been added to the protected southern Erie and northern Cattaraugus lands, which contain one of the few remaining intact old-growth forest regions. The new acreage joins what is already preserved by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Nature Conservancy. Land preservation advocates are hailing the acquisition as a victory for nature preservation, and a small win in the battle to fight global warming.
Zoar’s forest includes cherry and hard maple trees, as well as endangered species like ash and hemlock. American chestnuts also grow there. Diverse wildlife species make their homes in the forest, and its waterways are vital to the area’s drinking water.
Let’s send up a cheer for former landowner and naturalist Herbert F. Darling Jr., who made the land available for preservation. “This latest acquisition is in accordance with my father’s legacy of keeping Western New York’s lands available for the recreational use of people who live and work here,” he said in a recent Buffalo News article. Nature Conservancy officials expect to collaborate with the DEC to get the land officially added to Zoar’s nearly 4,500 acres of protected lands.
Can’t say we didn’t tell you so
In November, LSS predicted the following: “Immediately after the election, Collins stated that his legal woes will not distract him for the job. Which might be true, because he won’t have much to do.”
Last week, news/opinion website Splinter posted an article titled, The GOP's Lonely Heartless Club in which they reported on three Republican Congressmen who, “have a whole lot of time to do nothing in the House of Representatives, where nobody wants to sit next to them during lunch or play tag with them at recess.” One of the three is our own Chris Collins, who is under indictment for insider trading. “The three Republicans were basically excommunicated from the House GOP,” the story continues, “when they were pulled off their committee assignments, forcing them to watch the 116th Congress from the sidelines.”
The article paints a sad picture of House members with little leverage or impact on congressional business. “‘Zero’ is how Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio.) described the level of interest among his colleagues in working with Collins, [and the other two],” the article contends. Collins told Politico that he “plans on using his newfound free time to focus on constituent services, attend more district events, get underutilized congressional caucuses running again, and possibly co-sponsoring bills that lost their GOP backers in the midterms.” He says he’s making the best of it.
We at LSS do not take joy from anyone’s misfortune. But now that he’s elected, Collins’ misfortune is our misfortune.
It’s an age-old question every artist confronts; how do you place a value on your work? In his exhibition titled Hoarder: Price On Request artist Ulysses Atwhen answers the question by literally attaching a value directly on his art—in the form of actual currency. It’s the first step in a complicated pricing process, which serves as commentary on the art world itself.
The eclectic installation now on view at Big Orbit Gallery includes a wide variety of repurposed scavenged objects, improvised artworks, sound, media, and performance elements. The sheer diversity of stuff, plus lack of titles or descriptive text, will likely leave viewers scratching their heads (though titles may yet come; the show is evolving). Atwhen raises a variety of questions about the value of artistic labor, authorship, the art market, and the nature of art itself.
Nowhere is this questioning more powerfully evident than with Atwhen's arch Speculation series. On view are five works comprising single-size box springs, each with a different global currency attached spelling out the word “Alchemy” in the language of the country of origin (the exception being the US, for which Atwhen uses Hollywood “movie” money). The actual cost of a work to a potential buyer is determined by the value of the specific currency (a nearby monitor posts fluctuating real-time values), multiplied by a factor determined by the average CEO to worker pay ratio (see chart above). These prices are firm, but they change with the fortunes of the currencies, spotlighting the speculative nature of art as investment (or as a career).
The installation is filled with such sundry items as Bingo hoppers and scoreboards, electric fans, movie projectors, speakers, vintage classroom chairs, and a pedestal of beer (art or refreshments?), stacked onto an appropriated artwork by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. An orange vintage couch is attached to a wall above black vinyl text stating, “Art Goes Here;” sofa-size painting meets Duchamp via Dali. All of this supports the notion of artists as hoarders, but Atwhen also asks us to consider wealthy art collectors, who greedily amass much of the world’s art supply.
The underlying message
Materialist acquisition and monetary speculation are fine threads running throughout the exhibition. Investment drives the upper echelon of the art world (as searingly portrayed in the new Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw), where fortunes rise or fall with the vagaries of chance. Call it artworld Bingo. Many of the objects in Hoarder might just be junk in another context. But Atwhen understands that junk placed in a white box gallery by an artist, is transformed into something of value. How much value? That’s the question, isn’t it?
There will be a performance and artist talk at the closing reception February 23, 8–11 p.m.
Dishing up art
It’s a fact of life that non-profit arts organizations depend on fundraising events to fill annual budgets gaps. The trick is coming up with something unique, which sets your event apart from others and offers attendees a great experience. For Buffalo Arts Studio (BAS), that’s Plates and Pasta.
Plates and Pasta is a party, where guests enjoy sweet and savory tasting stations, beer, wine, and soft drinks. The event includes live music, interactive demonstrations, open artist studios, art exhibitions, and a silent auction. But the thing that distinguishes this fundraiser is that every guest goes home with a unique hand-designed ceramic plate or pasta bowl.
Who makes the plates?
White bisqueware dishes and bowls are generously donated by 716 China. They act as blank canvases, on which over 100 local artists create original designs, utilizing a variety of techniques in myriad personal styles. Some artists create original pre-printed decal sheets. Most hand-paint or draw using underglazes. The tableware is then glazed and fired again, producing a one-of-a-kind work of art, suitable for everyday use or display.
For weeks, BAS has been hosting plate-making parties, where artists gather in spirited art-making socials. Buffalo Arts Studio hopes the result will be 400 hand-decorated plates, completed by early March. It’s tempting to single out some of the noted participating artists by name. But the list is too long, so out of fairness let’s just say that many of the names are well-known to gallery regulars.
You may even recognize some of the artists by their trademark styles. Some of the participants create expressive patterns or abstract designs. Others work in figurative styles. Still others employ linear graphic techniques. Several out-of-town artist supporters sent images, which were converted into decals and used on the plates.
Sometimes the novelty of working on ceramic provides an opportunity for experimentation. Underglaze, and underglaze pencils behave differently from paint and other drawing materials. It’s all a bit experimental, and you really never know what the end result will look like, which adds to the challenge.
Ticket holders choose a plate to take home!
Plates are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, with new selections added on an ongoing basis (there are too many to put out all at once). And they can be used to eat from at the event, or not. Your choice.
Plates and Pasta takes place Saturday, March 30, 7–10 p.m., at the Tri-Main building at 2495 Main Street, Suite 500. Tickets can be purchased through the BAS website.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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