As the Spring semester begins in earnest, the hope and promise for tomorrow ushers forth. Academic seniors invariably begin thinking about the future, what they will do once they step beyond academia’s halls, how they will shape their community, and how they will impact the world. For the newest exhibit at the Czurles-Nelson Gallery, however, the impetus becomes the glance backward rather than the slog ahead. “Buffalo State Alumni Artists: Works from the Gerald Mead Collection” brings a moment’s pause to the gallery; showcasing those who have studied at Buffalo State, and have gone on to not only reshape Buffalo, but to see their names and success written into the canon of art history.
Organized from the personal collection of Gerald Mead – an artist, curator, educator and Buffalo State alum in his own right – this sprawling exhibit presents as a geological cross-section of seven decades worth of artists and art making. The exhibit spans seven decades, from the 1950’s to the present, and includes 60 artists. These generations merge and coalesce into a single, unified strata, which serves as an exemplar of artistic success for those who walk the halls of Buffalo State.
As unifying as the exhibit is, insofar that these artists studied at the same location and their individual pieces come from the same collection, they are inevitably disjointed by epoch and style. With this exhibit they are flung back into the same begging matrix of academic, aesthetic sensitivity and a baseline visual sensibility. Within the exhibit are instances where an artist is represented multiple times from Mead’s collection, as is the case with Nancy Belfer, whose presented art objects are two-dimensional and subsequently three-dimensional as her career progressed. Belfer serves as the exemplar of how an artist’s given style evolves over time – growing across dimensionality and texture – even by a single year; the bell curve of progress, however, is highlighted when placed adjacent to a cool, fleshy and washed-out minimalist painting by Robert Kaupelis. Stitched into the wider context of the exhibit, these artists and their singular artworks reflect both the dissimilarity of artists working together at a single point in time, and, how separated by years and circumstance, ghosts of their academia still speak to one another from disparate ateliers.
Other artists within the exhibit demonstrate the direct, cross-generational influence of academia; it becomes easy to see the influence of long-time professor Joseph Piccolo when installed adjacent to his more famous pupil, Robert Longo. The two pieces presented from Mead’s collection, although created years apart, share an affinity for theatric lighting of a single figure, and while dissimilar in their scale and focus, look as though they could have been plucked from the same piece of surrealist, David Lynchian noir. The exhibit also demonstrates how artists such as Rob Lynch and Jay Carrier – who share no connection beyond their place of education – can produce shockingly similar and frenetic bodies of work which vibrate and tingle against the core of the exhibit. Lynch and Carrier’s pieces demonstrate a fluidity of form, both realizing and subverting figural gestures within their given planes. These artists also demonstrate an affinity for a Neo-Expressionist palette which readily realizes crepuscular dreamscapes and can only be tangibly linked to the strange DNA shared by alumni of discipline-based programs.
Bringing together artists whose only similarity may be their alma mater, and the crucible for their formative years as artists, speaks equally to the challenge and uncanny ability of Mead to pull together a singular, exemplar body of work from his vast holdings. Like the couturier who produces a garment to match a singular body, this singular body of artists and artwork feels perfectly at home within the walls of the Czurles-Nelson Gallery. Mead will also be presenting a “pop-up” suite of ten more pieces by Buffalo State’s most notable alum Cindy Sherman in the adjacent Bacon Gallery on February 13 from 5-7pm, which is also the reception for the main exhibit in the Czurles-Nelson Gallery. “Buffalo State Alumni Artists: Works from the Gerald Mead Collection” is on view now in the Czurles-Nelson Gallery, located in Upton Hall on the Buffalo State College campus. Hours for the gallery, and more information on the exhibit can be found at.
Lead image: Towering in the Night: Rita Argen Auerbach