Sunday, September 13, 2015

When Poets Rule The World - Drive to Buffalo

Robert De Niro, Sr.,
Autumn Landscape with House, 1968
oil on canvas

An invitation card arrived from the University at Buffalo Gallery on Martha Jackson Place, and it brought back a flood of memories of my college painting classes back in New York City at The Cooper Union.  We drove out to Buffalo, to see the show dedicated to Robert De Niro, Sr. and the poet Irving Feldman.  Feldman was teaching and writing at the University at Buffalo and he recommended Robert De Niro for a summer painting position - this was back in 1967.

"Bobby" De Niro looked and sounded like his son, the famous actor, Robert De Niro, Jr.  The painter - De Niro had some early success probably stemming from the support of his powerful patron - Peggy Guggenheim in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  The artwork included in his show in Buffalo was created during the time period when I studied painting with him at Cooper, and so many of the paintings presented were ones I was familiar with.

Installation of Robert De Niro, Sr. and Irving Feldman
"Painter and Poet at UB in the Late 1960's"

The title of the show relates to the fact that Robert De Niro, Sr. had close relations with writers, and that the scene in the early 1950's and 60's was alive with the spirit of poetry ( somewhat like today ) and some rather well known characters were changing our culture through their work ( I am thinking of poet Allen Ginsburg and the writer Jack Kerouac here ).

By the time I studied with De Niro, his work had been neglected by the prevailing art scene which was heavily invested in abstraction and pop art, two trends which he would have rejected at that point in his career.  It has been a slow climb back up for some post-humous recognition, and his show in Buffalo begins to do that.  Also, a recent documentary about his life has sparked a renewal, and at least there is some curiosity thanks to the efforts of his son to rehabilitate his father's legacy.

Barbara Insalaco, Lester Johnson, and John Hultberg
Upstairs at the University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery

After visiting with Robert De Niro, Sr., I went upstairs to see the industrial landscapes of Barbara Insalaco, and I stuck around to look at the great ethnographic art collection on view as well as the paintings of Lester Johnson, and John Hultberg. 

A few miles down the road is the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and we caught the tail end of the Philip Burke show "Likeness of Being".

Philip Burke is a very popular caricaturist
with many portraits at
Burchfield Penney Art Center

Philip Burke's  paintings are always surprising for his endless imagination in re-arranging human anatomy while getting at the core of the celebrity he has in his cross-hairs.  Twenty years ago I brought Philip Burke to speak to my class at R.I.T. and he painted a work on the spot for the students to see his process.  He paints so intuitively, but always with a purpose.

Philip Burke's Rogues Gallery
in Buffalo

Upstairs, at Burchfield Penney Art Center I saw a collection of ceramics  in a show called "Body Norms" Selections from the Spong Collection.  There were many fine sculptors out for viewing including one of my neighbors in the Hungerford Building - Olivia Kim.

Sculpture by Olivia Kim

Later that same day we drove down to North Street,to the Hotel Lenox for an opening of a show at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, and I am so glad we did.  There we saw the photos of Amanda Means, a terrific photographer, artist and printer who has worked with masters like Bernice Abbott and Robert Mapplethorpe. Amanda, has her photos in the collection at The Albright Knox Art Gallery, but I know her and her work from way back when she was just starting out in New York City.

Amanda Means at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery

I was really engaged by her large leaf portraits, which have a beautiful all-over light, and they remind me of the famous black and white plant portraits of Karl Blossfeldt.  Amanda's leaves ( and light bulbs, before that ) reveal a deeply curious mind with a high aesthetic threshold.  Her new work is abstract in one sense but very physical in another, as she folds photo paper and lets the emulsion run down the surface creating imagery that is immediate like a splash of water on dry cement.

Amanda Means " Fan Abstraction"

If you are in Buffalo, take a day to see these shows ( I am sorry to have missed the Hollis Frampton retrospective at CEPA Gallery - as he was also one of my teachers at Cooper Union ), and if you are not living in Buffalo, grab your hat and do not miss these exhibitions!