Garden Rant
Gardening While Intoxicated
Buffalo Spree


A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

–Adrian Higgins,
Washington Post

... co-curators Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo have magnificently transcended the limitations of what is, at bottom, a show of books. ...Preciousness—the bane of such exhibitions—is nowhere in evidence.

–Richard Huntington,
Buffalo News

"Garden Walk Buffalo: A Celebration of Urban Gardens," is a tour guide into dozens of gardens during the annual event held the last full weekend in July. It's knowingly written by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, and packed with gorgeous photographs...

–Mark Sommer,
Buffalo News

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Art Writer

12 Exhibitions (Hallwalls 20th Anniversary Essay)

As tempting as it is to package the last twenty years of Hallwalls' exhibition programming into one coherent (albeit totally inaccurate) summary, that's not what this essay is about. Nor is this a brag sheet, listing all the artists who went on to illustrious careers, fame, and fortune thanks to the support and prescience of Hallwalls (although that did happen). In this strange twenty years--as good a period as any to illustrate the false linearity of art historical practice--the art world and Hallwalls witnessed the last gasps of Minimalism, the development of appropriation and mass media-related strategies, the rise and fall of the East Village scene, the growth of activist collaborations, and the continuation and revitalization of Conceptual art. Add new initiatives in both representational and abstract painting to this list and the difficulties of credible summation become clear. Even within the relatively limited space of twenty years, art won't arrange itself as neatly as we'd like it to.

The curators and artists involved with Hallwalls weren't really interested in neat arrangements or logical progressions. While commercial galleries manipulated trends, presenting artists in the context of newer, bigger, better investment speculations, the mission of the Hallwalls curators was much simpler. They tried to find artists who were not being represented in the marketplace. They also placed the work of artists who were represented commercially in contexts which emphasized aspects other than art's attractiveness as a commodity. (What happened to this work in the commercial networks later, or even concurrently, was an inevitable consequence of dominant capitalist enterprise.) Hallwalls curators gave artists the chance to develop new installations, they gave guest curators the chance to develop new ideas for exhibitions, and they encouraged the inclusion of other disciplines such as performance, writing, and video. There is no one "typical" Hallwalls exhibition, but there are types of exhibitions: single artist installations, thematic group shows, artist residencies, guest-curated shows, collaborations with other institutions, and collaborations with other programs.


It seems as good a strategy as any to focus on individual evocative examples of this programming, avoiding the promiscuous laundry list as well as the elitist top ten list. What follows are eleven personal and subjective selections from 20 years of Hallwalls exhibition programming plus one outside exhibition, starting with 1976 and ending with 1994. As the list progresses, it will become clear that these selections represent not just exhibitions, but the changing attitudes and priorities of the curators. Each one has had a distinct vision of how to go a task which has never been adequately defined.

"We Just Wanted to be Artists:" Approaching Painting 1976

During the Clough/Longo years, Hallwalls programming focused on framing Buffalo activity in the larger context of the national mainstream. Once Hallwalls became established within the orbit of the known art world it could also become a launching pad. In the three-part Approaching Painting exhibition series, founding artist Charles Clough (there was no curator system in the early years) carefully balanced a mixture of established artists--Robert Mangold, Sol Lewitt, Linda Benglis--with some new names like Judy Pfaff and John Torreano. A number of these artists visited for residencies and lectures, thus creating new lines of communication and new audiences. As Clough states with characteristic bluntness, "We thought we'd have an audience because we'd had all these visiting artists up. It's obvious if you do a show in some city and nobody knows you, then nobody's going to come to your show." The Approaching Painting shows were more than just a positioning strategy, however: as a painter, Clough was interested in the burgeoning of painting styles that rejected Minimalist practice. Over the years, every Hallwalls curator held similar shows, testing the seemingly unconquerable resilience of painting.

Sidebar: Pictures at Artists Space 1977

Pictures was not a Hallwalls exhibition, but is cited by most observers as a seminal show for the rethinking of representation seen in the early work of founding Hallwalls artists Robert Longo, Michael Zwack, and Cindy Sherman as well as in the work of associated artists like Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, and Sherrie Levine. Exhibition organizer Douglas Crimp wrote essays in October (1978) and Flash Art (1979)which explained his concept of "picture-using" artists, greatly increasing the notoriety and marketability of "Pictures" artists, whether they were in the original exhibition or not. The movement coalesced in the formation of Metro Pictures Gallery in 1981. For a large portion of the art world, the term Hallwalls is still inextricably associated with the "Pictures" phenomenon and the Longo and Sherman names. Although the accuracy of this characterization has been practically nil for years, early celebrity through association helped establish Hallwalls' reputation.

Defining a Moment: Figures: Forms and Expressions 1981

Both Charles Clough and subsequent Hallwalls curator G. Roger Denson successfully collaborated with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo on exhibitions of artists such as Raphael Ferrar, Charles Simonds, Judy Pfaff, and Jennifer Bartlett. These collaborations made it possible to publish catalogs and have multi-site exhibitions as well as encourage general cross-pollination of audiences, publicity, and funding. Most important, the curators were encouraged to work together, combining their different methodologies for identifying interesting work. The series culminated in Figures: Forms and Expressions, an exhibition which referenced the figure as a common vehicle for expression in the work of a very diverse array of artists. Held at Hallwalls, the Albright-Knox, and CEPA, the exhibition introduced the work of Transavantgardia artists Roberto Clemente and Sandro Chia to Buffalo audiences as well as presented work by emerging artists such as Ellen Carey, Laurie Simmons, and John Ahearn. The Albright-Knox collaborations were viewed with ambivalence by some Hallwalls staffers. It was felt that they were wedded to the Buffalo establishment and the commercial gallery scene. As an alternative space exhibition, Figures: Forms and Expressions may not have been extraordinary, but as a museum collaboration, it was an innovative way of addressing the figurative renaissance of the 80s. Ten years later, Denson still stresses Figures Forms and Expressions as a pivotal exhibition: "There were heated battles over the Albright collaborations but they were some of the best things we ever did. Our audience expanded so much because of them. When we did Figures: Form and Expressions, the transavantguardia was just beginning to be shown in New York. The people into conceptual art were threatened, but I was more interested in the whole picture."

Group Strategies: Motives 1984

Group shows at Hallwalls have always been surrounded by tension. The artists might be good individually but look terrible together, or the concept might be excellent, but not all the choices might be appropriate. Claudia Gould, who served as exhibitions curator in 1982-83, was more interested in identifying and presenting interesting work than in prioritizing a conceptual umbrella, but with Motives, organized with CEPA and the Albright-Knox, she succeeded in constructing a believable conceptual structure as well as bringing together consistently powerful work. The artists of Motives were united in questioning societal norms and power structures. Video installations by Kathy High and Eva Buchmuller/SQUAT Theatre were combined with mixed media work by Christy Rupp and Doug Ashford, photography by Jennifer Boland, paintings by Jane Dickson, and drawings from Joseph Nechvatel. This diverse range of formal strategies became surprisingly invisible throughout the exhibition. While other presenting spaces often had problems with combining traditional and electronic media, ghettoizing either one or the other, Motives was one in a long line of presentations which demonstrated the unswerving commitment of Hallwalls staff to innovative installation techniques, regardless of media. The work of Colab members Rupp, Ashford, Dickson, and Nechvatel assumed a new formal autonomy outside of the often raucous context of group politics, while the multi-media installations created compellingly ominous environments. During her short tenure as curator, Claudia Gould organized a number of other important exhibitions, including installations by Mike Kelley (1983) and video artist Barbara Lattanzi (1983). She took her Hallwalls experience and contacts to subsequent positions at P.S. 1 and Artist's Space.

Just Showing the Work: Nadin, Paterson, Winters 1984

Like Gould, Robin Dodds, who was at Hallwalls from 1983 through 1985, often grew impatient with the need to theorize about exhibitions. She was also a rigorously self-critical presenter whose group shows were developed through a process she calls "editorial synthesis." Although Dodds organized ambitious conceptual shows such as 1984's Objectivity, including works by Marilyn Minter, Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons, and Alan Belcher, she also focused on less sensational but equally compelling presentations such as three concurrent installations by painters Peter Nadin, Toni Paterson, and Robin Winters. Through various ways of presenting representational imagery, the painters found subtle tensions and combinations, pointing the viewer toward these juxtapositions through salon-style presentation (Paterson and Nadin) or through dynamics within the individual work (Winters). Dodds was also committed to using the resource presented by Western New York's artist community. She founded the Hallwalls artist advisory board and gave "regional" artists major presentations such as Paterson's in this show. Dodds came to Buffalo with a prepared list of shows which she had been able to pull together thanks to her former experience as a former New Museum staffer and her on-going scrutiny of the flourishing 80's scene. Once she got to Buffalo, however, she realized that much more was needed than a list of shows. "I had my own little plans for exhibitions, and those kind of worked out the way they would have in a vacuum," she recalls. "We changed it so that a local artist had a real gallery every period. I was hoping that that would make the local community more interested in the organization. The other thing that did have an effect although it wasn't visible was starting the artist advisory board. And that was very difficult in a way, because you didn't know whether or not to let the artists run the institution."

Surrendering Authority: Double Vision 1988

The guest curator program, instituted in 1985, provided a way to support non-mainstream curatorial voices as well as alternative artistic expressions. It funded a catalog and essayist as well as the usual exhibition expenses, but, most significantly, it greatly expanded Hallwalls' reach into a wider range of artist communities and audiences. Fred Wilson, who later became known for his own installation projects, brought together 10 non-Western artists (Howardina Pindell, Tyrone Mitchell, Emily Cheng, Eugenio Espinosa, and others) whose largely abstract work contained subtle references to their inherited cultures. The exhibition looked very unlike the usual flat-footed attempt at "multiculturalism," and later traveled to the Longwood Gallery in the Bronx. Other guest curators in this series included Bradley Eros, Rene Riccardo, Carl Hazelwood, and Michael Osterhaut. The Eros Metabody exhibition was perhaps the most bizarre of the series, celebrating sex, death, science, and excess, through a variety of multi-media and performative strategies, including a nude egg-tossing event. Painter Catherine Howe, Hallwalls curator in 1985-89, cites the guest curator program as essential to her programming philosophy, commenting, "That's the really good thing about being an artist/curator because you never feel real territorial about your shows, your ideas. You want to let go because your primary identity is as an artist."

Installation Poetics: Espirit de l'Escalier 1988

Although she had appeared in group shows at Hallwalls (Poetic Resemblance, 1986) before this installation, Barbara Bloom was not represented by a gallery when Catherine Howe organized Espirit de l'Escalier. Through the National Endowment for the Arts Interarts program (now discontinued), Howe was able to get extra funding for three large installations involving multimedia. (Bloom, John Jesurun, and Ericka Beckman). Bloom's elegant sculptural meditation on the paranormal was multi-chambered, including intense areas of blue light, floating hats, printed dinner plates, and a series of watermark papers installed in lightboxes. It was later installed at the 1988 Venice Biennale where it won first prize in the Aperto. The three installations involved considerable rebuilding of the gallery as well as complicated electronic hardware--few other spaces of Hallwalls size and staff limitations would have tried to do all three at the same time.

Trashing the Place: Salvage Lounge 1988

Probably one of the most user-friendly pieces of programming Hallwalls ever sponsored, the Salvage Lounge residency/installation brought video artist Rob Danielson and sculptor Teresa Agnew (both from Milwaukee) into the Buffalo public arena. The installation was the result of five weeks of interviewing and hunting/gathering through Buffalo streets, turning the central galleries into a vast rugged terrain of junk, filled with videotaped voices and faces. Visitors were invited to participate in the installation process as part of the residency, establishing a tradition which was duplicated with the installation of Fluxattitudes (1991) and Anne Wayson and Courtney Egan's Bra Quilt (1992). The Danielson/Agnew project was also a unique combination of the video program's focus on public dialog through open access and the exhibition program's history of encouraging site-specific projects.

Surveying the Field: A Question of Paint 1990

Many longtime Hallwalls audience members and some Hallwalls staff were taken aback by curator Charles Wright's focus on new developments in abstract painting and his inclusion of artists from commercial galleries. Wright attempted to explore the irony of an investment in the history of abstraction as well as look seriously at the artists who were doing it. During his one-year tenure (1990-91), he thought of Hallwalls more as an institution than as an artist's space, and programmed shows which were more retrospective in attitude than those of his predecessors. In fact, his thinking was similar to Charles Clough's first painting shows, in which established artists were shown with later generations of emerging painters. Wright was vindicated to a certain degree when artists from his shows (Byron Kim, Mathew Barney, Rirkrit Tiravanija) turned up in Whitney Biennials and similar surveys of contemporary abstraction began to appear in the early 90s. The Whitney Biennial list has always been one way to test the soothsaying skills of Hallwalls curators; their record so far has been fairly accurate, although the lag time is sometimes too short to say for certain which discovery came first.

Retrospective Initiatives: Fluxattitudes 1991

At once an uncharacteristic backward glance and a revolutionary experiment in installation practice, Fluxattitudes was both a guest curated exhibition and an artist's project. Cornelia Hauf and Susan Hapgood pulled together a massive list of both seminal Fluxus artists and contemporary artists in the Fluxus (non)tradition. Rirkrit Tiravanija directed an installation in which opening night audience members put on white gloves and installed the show. It included works by George Maciunas, Ben Vautier, Ay-O, George Brecht, Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono, Daniel Spoerri, and many other of the original Fluxus artists as well as contemporary works by such artists as Christian Marclay, Cady Noland, Mike Kelley, and Martin Kippenberger. Fluxus traveled to the New Museum, the first wave in a torrent of renewed interest in Fluxus which lasted throughout the early 90s. Charles Wright felt the show fit into his art historian's view of Hallwalls: "I was interested in doing programming that was museum-quality (I'm not really sure what that means) but to do things that seemed to be relevant to the broader field, to sort of question means and modes of presentation. Fluxattitudes is probably the most explicit example of that."

Back to Basics: Robert Morrissey, Sculpture 1992

When Buffalo artist Sara Kellner took over the exhibitions program in late 1991, the funding climate for Hallwalls had changed drastically for the worse. Offering thousands of dollars to artists like Barbara Bloom to do a commissioned installation was now out of the question as the New York State Council on the Arts budget was roughly halved and NEA funds were threatened by congressional scare tactics. Kellner's solution to this crisis was actually consistent with two urgent needs: to do cheaper exhibitions and to serve the artist constituencies of the Western New York area. The 1992 Sculpture and Robert Morrissey installations included some artists from the region (as many early Hallwalls shows had done) but also returned to more formalist concerns. In a roomy installation which highlighted the clean lines and post-minimalist qualities of much of the work, Sculpture was the first group sculpture exhibition Hallwalls had sponsored in almost 10 years. Robert Morrissey's concurrent installation in the project room was the first of many project room installations which gave area artists a generous space in which to do new site-specific works. Morrissey's suspended constructions involving hidden magnets were later featured in well-reviewed exhibitions at commercial galleries in New York and Buffalo.

Regional Imperatives: Heidi Kumao 1994

The term "area artist" is always problematic but especially so for artists like Heidi Kumao of Syracuse, whose work has traveled the country and resides unquestionably at the cutting edge of multi-media. In her zoetrope installation, Kumao effectively reinvigorated a defunct technology by turning it inside out, using simple but mysterious human interactions as her subject matter. Artists like Kumao from Syracuse, Andy Fabo from Toronto, and James Agard from Pennsylvania represent Sara Kellner's efforts to look outside of the New York scene, a mission she has taken very seriously. In a recent interview, Kellner said, "New York is certainly not the center of the art world anymore, just a very concentrated part of it. I started getting hooked in to things going on in Toronto and Canada which has been really important to me in the last few years. Not only is there all this incredible stuff going on but it's only an hour and a half away and it's just not being shown here, which shocked me. And if we're not supporting the Western New York artists, it makes no sense to open the doors."

As Kellner states, the move away from art world centers like New York is not just about money. Certainly funding for the arts is shrinking but the art world is going through a parallel process of simultaneous constriction and expansion. As the commercial venues find it necessary to exercise caution, it makes less sense for artists to flock to these former Meccas. Secondary or even tertiary cities like Buffalo can maintain their own circuits while connecting with other systems in former hinterlands like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Wyoming. New networks--aided perhaps by wider use of Internet technologies--can circulate information about artists and work. In the meantime, smaller-scaled models like the newly formed Western New York artist's exchange can help allay the sting of "regional" labels. Hallwalls started out by positioning itself in relation to New York, largely because the founding artists wanted to live there. As it turned out, the art world is a much bigger place.

This essay is partially based on interviews conducted during 1994-1995 with the following people:
Charles Clough, Hallwalls founder
Charlotta Kotik: Albright-Knox Art Gallery curator, 1972 - 1983

Past and present Hallwalls staff:
G. Roger Densen, Staff programmer (1978-1980),
Exhibitions curator (1980-1982)
Claudia Gould, Exhibitions curator, 1982-1983
Robin Dodds, Exhibitions curator, 1983-1985
Catherine Howe, Exhibitions curator, 1985-1989
Charles Wright, Exhibitions curator, 1990-1991
Sara Kellner, Exhibitions curator, 1991-the present

Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 1995

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