This week, I saw “‘Wish You Were Here’: The Buffalo Avant-Garde of the 1970s” at the Albright-Knox Gallery just before it closed on Sunday (thanks to Scott MacDonald for prompting the journey!). The exhibition was jumbled, but a good beginner’s primer to the handsomely-NYSCA-and-NEA-funded lightening field of media creativity that was Central New York in the 1970s.
I learned that Cindy Sherman was part of artist-run art space Hallwalls and did fundamental early work in Buffalo. It was great to see her A Play of Selves (1975), decoupaged photographs placed at eye-level around the walls of a rectangular gallery space.
It helped me to better understand the formal advantages that decoupaged silhouettes give artists like William Kentridge and Kara Walker. Decontextualized cut-outs of human figures always carry a paradoxical dual connotation of a “play of selves,” as well as a hero’s journey. This representational mode allows Kentridge and Walker to easily inflect their social and national shadow histories with private/psychoanalytic registers.
The unparalleled highlight of the exhibit was Paul Sharits’ hallucinatorily superb Dream Displacement (1976). I could have stayed from opening till closing in that room of shattering glass and traveling color bands. The NYTimes has some brief footage of the installation piece.
It got me thinking in all sorts of provocative directions about expanded cinema and structuralist film. Sadly, two of the 16mm projectors were inoperative when I saw it. This was proof of the technological obstacles that expanded cinema presents in a gallery setting, and, as Scott pointed out, one of the more pragmatic grounds for video’s appeal in the 1970s.
To do: see and learn more about Paul Sharits (I’ve only seen a couple of his flicker films at this writing), but also more Mary Miss and Nancy Holt, outliers in the exhibition.