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On View: Structural inspiration

Vascular Modes at Hallwalls

Courtesy of Jody Hanson

After a lull of merely a century, Buffalo is adding new landmarks to its distinguished collection of historic architecture. Buildings like the new Federal Court House, the Hauptman Woodward Institute, and the Martin House Visitors Center are important structures that are becoming the Buffalo architectural icons of tomorrow. These buildings demonstrate that while it’s imperative to preserve the city’s treasures, it’s also vital to observe and appreciate the important buildings that are happening today, and to keep producing the kind of innovative architecture that expresses the design aesthetics of the present.

For nearly ten years, Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center has been the main tenant of Babeville, the beautifully restored and adaptively reused Delaware Asbury Church. While its physical presence is housed in a historic structure, Hallwalls is paying tribute to the creation of new works by asking twenty-one Buffalo artists to create works whose point of departure is the recently opened Gates Vascular Institute, designed by Mehrdad Yazdani and now one of the signature buildings of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Springing from that premise, the show that opens this month at Hallwalls includes interesting new works by artists working in diverse media—including drawing, painting, photography, filmmaking, and sculpture. One of them is Lesley Horowitz, who has been photographing abandoned industry and desolate landscapes of the American Rust Belt.  She finds it disorienting that once-prosperous mills and factories— places that were built without the idea of failure—are now abandoned and destroyed by time and the elements. Horowitz’s piece for Vascular Modes imagines a world where things have gone dark—an especially poignant and timely concept, given the disruption and devastation of Hurricane Sandy. In her work, the outline of the Vascular building is now a symbol from a distance.

Amy Greenan’s painting And Then We … And Then is based on her own photographs. The deceptively simple painting is a very tangential reference to the building, influenced by the repeated curves of the building. There’s an intended analogy with the curves of our body’s blood vessels and circulation.

For Adrian Bertone, the inspiration comes from thinking about the hearts in his family and how they are (seemingly) destined to fail. His drawing/painting on mylar and paper is a character study of himself, his father, and his brother. The faces, bodies, and identities are overlapped again and again, merging the characters into one doomed human, waiting for advancements in heart health. Without those advancements, their days are numbered, a representation of the finite being.

Jody Hanson taps into the history of early medical remedies as provided by local druggists, apothecaries, doctors, and chemists—all the “miracle” juices that promised to cure ailments. Hanson discovered that in the nineteenth century, there were over thirty regional chemists in Buffalo, each with a signature bottle and the promise of healing. For better or worse, the concoctions were a part of the continuum of medicine, precursors to the medical capabilities we know today. Reflecting on those tinctures brings perspective to the modern state of vascular medicine.     

Fotini Galanes has created a beautifully detailed drawing for Vascular Modes. Her composition references the architectural aesthetic of the Vascular center, but is not directly representational of the building. In black-and-white quasi-Baroque imagery, she creates intriguing bodily forms that reach beyond architectural parameters.
In contrast, Phil Hastings’s video is a colorful outgrowth of his Morphology series. He draws from the sciences as much of the inspiration, using raw video imagery that is manipulated through a series of processes. The imagery evolves from his kneading and layering the source material, as he endeavors to get to a visceral understanding of the term vascular.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating Mark McLoughlin’s pinhole photography-based submission. Using a hand-built stereo camera, McLoughlin also documented the Guggenheim Bilbao in its inaugural exhibition. His paper negatives can be viewed through special glasses to achieve an effective, somewhat fuzzy, stereo view. For the Hallwalls show, rather than just capturing the building, he’s staging a retro-pictorialist view with a mother and child dressed in period attire sitting near a parlor window. The Vascular Institute is visible out the window, in the distance. The use of the pinhole camera seems an intriguing way to capture the juxtaposition of two eras, framing both Buffalo’s early and recent architectural masterpieces.

Vascular Modes is curated by John Massier and runs at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Delaware Avenue, from January 11 to March 1, with an opening reception and artists’ talks on January 11 at 8 p.m.        


Barry A. Muskat is Buffalo Spree’s architecture critic and frequent contributor, who has written about many of the buildings of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

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