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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Albright-Knox's current show may be the best thing I have ever seen them do. It's called Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s, and it contains one marvel after another. The 70's in Buffalo were a remarkable time- in a funny way this place was sort of the Florence of the American avant-garde. The Center for Media Study at UB attracted a number of major figures, perhaps most notably Tony Conrad. Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman were at Buffalo State College; Paul Sharits, and Steina and Woody Vasulka were working here, Hallwalls and CEPA and Media Study/Buffalo and ArtPark were founded. One of the cool things about the show is that several of the galleries are devoted to the work of these organizations, which are still enriching our cultural life.

The work itself is interesting on several levels. I can remember how shocking some of the avant-garde art of the time was, but that shock has largely worn off, and that means that the work can be viewed on a more purely aesthetic level, instead of as being merely confrontational. In a way it is like the way we can hear Thelonious Monk now. Once it sounded discordant, and now it sounds like jingles. (That said, there was still some confrontational material.)I'm not sure how being in the Albright affects the way the work is viewed-- I think it canonizes it somewhat, but it also restores a bit of the edge.

At the time I was reading about this stuff in the Village Voice and elsewhere, but I had no idea that it was happening in Buffalo. Having it all together like this feels like a recreation of the excitement that must have been in the air at the time.

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