"Artpark: 1974-84" -- A Major UB Gallery Exhibition to Open in September

Influential and innovative summer residency program remembered

Release Date: February 9, 2010


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The first comprehensive historical overview of the Artpark Visual Artists Program will go on exhibit in September in the UB Art Gallery.

Among the projects chronicled in the exhibition is an Oldsmobile "time capsule" created in 1975 by the avant-garde design practice, Ant Farm. (Photo courtesy of Chip Lord and Curtis Schreier)

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Art Gallery will mount the exhibit "Artpark: 1974-84," the first comprehensive historical overview of the seminal years of the innovative Visual Artists Program at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y.

The free public exhibition will run in the UB Gallery, Center for the Arts, UB North Campus, from Sept. 25 through Dec. 18.

An opening reception, free and open to the public, will be held Sept. 25 from 2-6 p.m. in the gallery. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition and a related conference will take place Oct. 8-9 at UB. Conference details will be announced in the spring.

Support is provided for the catalogue by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support for the exhibition and publication is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with programming support from the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and UB's Department of Visual Studies, The Poetry Collection and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The exhibition covers the halcyon days at Artpark when "earth artist" Charles Simonds built tiny villages of mud and clay all over his own body (wherein dwelled mythical "little people"), as well as life-sized cairns; off-beat plays took place each day in tiny woodland theaters; and, one summer, Spanish food artist Antoni Miralda organized a procession and feast marking the end of the summer leisure. Children and adults alike took workshops in clothing design and cooking, contributed items to Ant Farm's Oldsmobile station wagon time capsule to communicate the values and the culture of the 1970s to the people of the 21st century, scampered up pyramids made by Lloyd Hamrol from dirt-filled burlap bags and descended into the earth by way of a sculpture of concentric rings constructed by Mary Miss.

They wandered among media and sound installations, and cavorted in a forest clothed by Pat Oleszko in vividly colored, Cheshire-cat striped fabrics and through a field of Joan Zalenski's ceramic Holsteins.

There were spectacular earthworks by artists such as George Trakas, Michelle Stuart and Dennis Oppenheim, and mysterious and unexpected site-specific structures like Robert Stackhouse's snaking A-frame that followed the contours of the Niagara River at the edge of the gorge -- hundreds of quirky, complex, brilliant, challenging works of art intended to last a short time and engage visitors with the works and artists who produced them. It was radical and provocative. It was fun.

Curated by Sandra Q. Firmin of the UB Art Gallery, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will examine the place of the Artpark Visual Arts Program in American art during the 1970s and 1980s, contextualizing it as a radical experiment in temporary public art within the history of sculpture parks in the United States and the flowering of alternative art spaces in the 1970s.

The project will focus on specific works as they relate to larger developments such as site-specificity, the confluence of architecture and sculpture, new media within the public realm and the 1970s women's movement.

The exhibit will feature documentation of more than 200 artists' projects, photographs, drawings, maquettes, video and film, ephemera, multimedia installations and original and re-fabricated sculpture and installations.

The accompanying catalogue will feature six essays, a chronology of projects, schematic drawings, excerpts of artist statements and extensive documentation of projects. While photos of all the works completed at Artpark have been reproduced in black-and-white, this will be the first time that many of them will be presented in color.

Firmin says the exhibition/catalogue will present the first historical chronicle of the Artpark Visual Arts Program, which she calls "a radical experiment in artist-public interaction and site-specificity that successfully balanced a populist mission with the creation of experimental art.

"Many of the artists who were part of Artpark's early years were beginning careers that stretched the boundaries of what could be considered art and have since become internationally recognized in the realms of conceptual art, performance art, sound art, architectural sculpture, media arts and earthworks," says Firmin.

She points out that Artpark -- sensitive to the lack of opportunities for women and ethnic and racial minorities in the visual arts at the time -- invited a notable number of women and artists of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to participate in the residencies.

"The sheer number of prominent and less-known artists who worked in this program will mark 'Artpark: 1974-84' as a primary source on this period of American art," Firmin says.

She points out that Artpark was founded in 1974 as a seasonal outdoor cultural New York State Park. The 172-acre park was situated along the Niagara Gorge on the U.S.-Canada border seven miles downriver from Niagara Falls.

It provided artists with a spectacular setting in which to work, live and draw inspiration, featuring as it did theaters, open land for artist projects, wooded areas, trails to the Niagara River and a communal elevated boardwalk known as the ArtEl.

"Mindful of the land's varied histories, artists often developed projects in response to its mythical and geological pasts," Firmin says, "as well as to traces of human presence as evidenced by such things as a landfill known as the 'spoils pile,' a chemical disposal site, fragments of an earlier railroad and bridge, a portage trail and an ancient Native American burial ground."

The UB Art Galleries recognizes the Natural Heritage Trust and New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for their support of the projects produced at Artpark during the years 1974 to 1984.

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