Visual Arts Program

Friday, May 15, 2015 — Friday, July 3, 2015

Amid/In WNY 2015 - Part 3

Opening Reception:
Friday, May 15, 2015, 8:00 to 11 pm

Exhibition continues through July 3

monkey babyBethany Krull, Surrogate (monkey baby) 2012

Adrian BertoloneDenton CrawfordFlatsitterPam GlickBethany KrullEvelyne Leblanc-RobergeIan McCrohanAllen Topolski

Curated by Kyle Butler, John Massier, Rebecca Wing

Amid/In WNY 2015 is a conversationally-derived casual survey of the art of our region at this moment. It does not include everyone and, in the end, will not include everyone. It’s not planned as some all-encompassing, omnibus survey. We have used the term “studio trolling” to describe our process and that’s an apt description. We consulted with each other to cobble together a list of artists whose work we were interested in investigating at this time. Beginning in November 2014, over 70 studio visits have been completed with local and regional artists. Artists and their work were discussed before, during, between, and after our visits.

Amid/In WNY 2015 will be (with the exception of the summer members’ exhibition—its own kind of casual survey) the only 2015 project in Hallwalls’ gallery schedule. Two additional exhibitions will premiere in September, and November 2015. We have no idea what these remaining two exhibitions will contain. They will be similarly culled from an ongoing process of studio trolling, conversations, and lunch.

Q&A with the Curators  

Q: You’re almost at the halfway point in your year-long regional survey? What’s the count so far?  

John Massier: 86 studio visits and, through three exhibitions, 31 artists exhibited.  

Q: Is that where you expected to be at this point?  

JM: I thought we’d have done more studio visits by now, but February was pretty brutal in WNY and it really hampered our mobility. But our ratio at this point describes more than a third of the visited artists have exhibited, which is very good.  

Q: Looking ahead to the rest of the year, do you have goals or expectations for what remains?  

Kyle Butler: Not really.  The shows are developed in so little time that it seems better to go into the planning stages with a reactive mind, responding quickly to what we see in studio visits rather than holding too strongly to any preconceived idea of what might be available.  Aside from the stable sort of statistics of the process (number of studio visits, etc), it’s too unruly to reliably expect anything.  

Rebecca Wing: I guess I expect to be surprised during every round of upcoming studio visits. There isn’t one piece that we have shown so far that I could have anticipated seeing when we went to go visit the artist.  

JM: I completely expect us to top 150 studio visits sometime in the fall.   Q: That’s quite a bit.  

RW: It doesn’t really feel like that many.  

KB: Yeah, the more the better and never enough.  

JM: If there’s an underlying notion to this project—and there are probably many—one surely is the sheer volume of artistic activity in the WNY region. I said from the beginning that we were not aspiring to concoct an omnibus survey because I knew, no matter how many visits we did, it would still fall short of fully representing what’s going on around us.  

Q: In terms of Part Three, is there a theme that emerged for this exhibition? It seems that the first two parts had formal reverberations, as well as conceptual ones, that were shared between works.  

JM: When we finished selecting the work for Part Three, Kyle said something like “I’m curious how this is all going to look together.” And that about sums it ALL up. The entire project. We’ve never been driven to concoct any conscious themes, we’ve tasked ourselves with selecting what we liked from what we saw. In Part Two, we began our visits thinking/presuming we had a certain direction and that changed 180 degrees in a single day of visits. That was a strong reminder to us not to predetermine anything. Even as we now head into the installation period, with artists dropping off their work in a few days, I don’t think we know what Part Three is going to look like, really. Or how these works will speak to each other. Maybe they’ll argue with each other, lol. But we like everything we selected, so it’s going to look like something. It’s crazy fun to think we’re putting Evelyne Leblanc-Roberge’s photo collage of a concrete wall in the same show as Flatsitter’s colorful and rapturous film work—that’s an amusing trajectory to accommodate.  

KB:  Of the shows so far, this one has been the most difficult to add up. I don’t think that it will want for connections, though. It’s just going to be more of a surprise, when it’s installed, what works resonate with each other or what themes are carried between them.  I have some hunches, but it’d be hasty, this time around, to claim throughlines before the show is ready to go.  

RW: There is such a diversity in color palettes, ranging from monochromatic to highly saturated, and in subject matter, reaching from the banal to the utterly fantastic. I see a lot of formal relationships between many of the works we chose; I think any conceptual throughlines will become more apparent once everything is installed in the same space.  

Q: I think we always ask you if there are highlights from your studio visits and you always answer, they’re all highlights!  

JM: From the artists we selected, that’s definitely true. Ian McCrohan impersonating George Hughes (“Ian, you’ve got to be a samurai! You’ve got to be ready for anything! If I lose my brushes, I paint with my socks!”) was pretty delightful. We joked about just installing Ian in the gallery as a greeter for seven weeks. Allen Topolski is always a great visit because he’s down there in the basement of U of R in his studio of which part used to be a bathroom, surrounded by all his nutty professor contraptions, but always putting together really astute work. Denton Crawford, interestingly, was least certain about one work of his that we loved the most. We left Bethany Krull’s studio and all we needed to say to each other was “Monkey baby.”  

KB: They are totally all highlights and everybody is a unique snowflake. In this round, there were a couple people whose work we were really unfamiliar with. There’s always a handful of those in each round and I like the sort of wild card feel those visits have. This was the case with Evelyn, Pam, and Denton. John mentioned Allen’s studio already, but that visit seemed like we were in the lair of some Rochesterian, antiquing superhero. Esther Neisen’s hyper-organized studio full of archived film negatives and color-arranged fabric was strangely gratifying. And Ian McCrohan shares this great studio in an old elementary school with Ruby Merritt (whom we also visited) and down the hall from Necole Zayatz (who was in A/I Part 2).  

RW: Visiting studios really is a highlight of this entire process. It’s incredibly stimulating to constantly be switching gears between different artists talking about their individual practices. I was particularly enthused when Ruby Merritt showed us her rock collection and sent us each home with a geode. Swapping silverfish encounter stories with Alicia Malik was also memorable, if not a little horrifying. In terms of setting the tone for the upcoming show, our visit to Rochester stood out. All three of the artists in A/I 3. And for the record, I was totally enraptured with Alan Topolski’s mad scientist renovated basement bathroom studio too.  

Q: How does it break down when you’re discussing what work to include?  

JM: We do that as we go, between visits, in the car, over lunch. Then we have a longer meeting once the round of visits is complete and review each visit more fully. It’s always a question of what resonates the strongest—for whatever reason. Even when you can’t necessarily define the reasons why, you have to trust to those works that stick in your head. They’ve impacted you for a reason. It’s also a question of what’s ready to show NOW—this whole project has been an effort toward forcing spontaneity to some degree. Our underlying presumption is that any given set of artists should be working all the time, so they should always have something to show you. It doesn’t always turn out to be the case, of course, because everyone works at their own distinct pace, but it’s true more often than not.  

KB: The local art scene is robust, but also often familiar. A fair amount of deliberation goes to not just trying to find the right, ready to show work at a given time, but also to making sure we don’t tread too much in that familiarity. I think that goes with the non-comprehensive survey nature of the series: finding apt, timely work that doesn’t just celebrate the already celebrated for the sake of celebration. Though this is a larger, ongoing agenda that gets pushed around by the smaller decisions as to what we think will work at the time or not.Ultimately it comes down to “what did we see and, of that, what goes together.”  

RW: The car rides in between visits have been the most productive times for discussion and deliberation so far. The works we’ve just seen are still fresh in our minds and musing aloud helps to trigger any associations between previous artists we’ve visited. I think it also aligns with the spontaneous nature of the entire project. If we all find ourselves enthusiastically recalling the same works, there’s some sort of gut reaction that we have to acknowledge.  

Q: Why is the in-person aspect of the project so critical? In 2015, don’t most professional artists have websites or tumblr pages or Instagram albums?  

JM: It’s important to meet people in person because curating is not the same as catalogue shopping. As John Lydon once said, “This ain’t no armchair outfit.” Naturally, if you’re looking at artists beyond your immediate reach, the internet is a spectacular research tool. But when we’re talking about being within driving distance—as we are in the case of a regional survey—you have to visit people. You have to speak to artists face to face and hear what they have to say. An awful lot can emerge in conversation that might not be written into an artist’s statement. Sometimes you have to be there in person to poke them to open drawers or show you more than they were perhaps intending to. Sometimes just being in someone’s workspace illuminates the process and intentions behind the work. Some artists are more comfortable talking to you on their home field, while others are stressed that you’ve entered that space in the first place—both those scenarios can be revealing.  

KB: Some work doesn’t document nearly as well as it comes off in person. Seeing the work in person makes the job of organizing a show a lot more concrete. Also, artists have very different ways of preparing for studio visits, and like John mentioned, some people will plan to show you a set of things while having totally worthwhile works turned against the wall or hidden in a closet. In-person studio visits have proven to be a good way of teasing out the oddballs in people’s practices.    

RW: Yeah, for all of the reasons these guys mentioned, the in person visit is essential. Although, I’d like to point out that we do look up artist’s websites too. There are a few pieces of Denton Crawford’s that we didn’t see in person until he dropped them off at the gallery. However, having seen his some of his other work in person made it possible for us to make the decision to include pieces he didn’t show us during the studio visit. Meeting with someone in their personal workspace, often has this quality of clarifying the driving force behind their practice/process and I agree that can be very revealing.

Hallwalls is pleased to announce the award this month (June 2015) of a major grant of $5,000 from The Marks Family Foundation in partial support of Parts 4 & 5 of Amid/In WNY 2015, and of the catalog for the entire year-long exhibition series, to be published when Part 5 opens on November 6, 2015. (Part 4 opens on September 18, 2015.) With this grant, the Buffalo-based Marks Family Foundation joins the Visual Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), which has supported Parts 1, 2, & 3 of Amid/In WNY 2015 (including their documentation for the culminating catalog) and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which is supporting the entire 5-part series and catalog.