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Buffalo Society of Artists marks 120 years

From left: Patti Harris "Totem"; Joan Fitzgerald, "Sitting Bull"; and Brenda Molloy, "Morphic Field".

In 1891 American Realist Thomas Eakins was at the peak of his painting career. John Singer Sargent was in his portraiture heyday. In Paris—where artistic innovation outstripped that in America by decades—Toulouse-Lautrec was downing absinthe and painting La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge and Claude Monet was deep into his Haystacks series. Little Pablo Picasso was only ten, his cubist revolution still sixteen years away. It would be another twenty-two years before the Armory Show arrived in New York City to introduce Americans to modernism. In the burgeoning City of Buffalo, the Albright Art Gallery had been under construction for a year.

Against this backdrop, the Buffalo Society of Artists was founded. Almost from the start, the Society acquired a conservative reputation, dominated as it was early on by women artists who at the time were not considered serious “professionals” by male artists. This old-school social art club image followed the Society through the decades, even leading to a split in the early 1930s by a progressive faction who formed the now-defunct Patteran Society. By the late 1970s there were twenty-eight artist groups on record in Buffalo. One hundred and twenty years after its inception, the Buffalo Society of Artists (now often going by the acronym BSA) is still chugging along, having outlasted them all.

The BSA celebrates this milestone anniversary with three separate exhibitions beginning this month. Two of them were curated by Sara Kellner, a former Hallwalls curator. The third show, titled 120th Anniversary—An Exhibition of Historic Buffalo Society of Artists Members, takes place at the Burchfield Penney Art Center beginning on November 10. This will be an exhibit of art and archival material relating to historic BSA members.

One of the exhibitions curated by Kellner will be hosted by the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda beginning with a reception on November 10. It will include the work of twenty-seven BSA members. The second Kellner-curated exhibition, opening at the UB Anderson Gallery on November 12, includes only installation work by BSA artists. Installation is a contemporary art form in which the work is created on the site where it’s exhibited, incorporating a variety of materials that are often used to transform a viewer’s perception of the space, and often the space itself. In other words, it’s not paintings and sculptures on walls and pedestals. “I’m glad to see the organization encourage artists to stretch more,” says Kellner, who was impressed with the inaugural efforts of many of the membership. “Many people took a shot at proposing an installation and there were many good proposals.”

Recently the BSA has embarked on a video archive project in collaboration with the Burchfield Penney to collect and preserve video records of prominent artists living in Western New York. This community service is another new direction for the organization, which taken along with the upcoming installation show, hints at an organization in transition.

It’s also worth noting that Indigo Gallery in Allentown will present a BSA invitational exhibition beginning December 1, in honor of the 120th year celebration. Gallery owner and curator Elizabeth Samuels will exhibit small works from twenty BSA artists.                 

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