BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last year’s popular “UB in the
’70s” event presented by the University at Buffalo
Humanities Institute focused on the cultural history of the city
and the brilliant writers and musicians, many from UB, who produced
groundbreaking work here during that decade.
This year, the Humanities Institute will present “UB in
the ’70s: Radical Arts” on May 6 in the auditorium in
Allen Hall, UB South Campus, which will focus on what made
Buffalo’s arts scene in the ’70s an internationally
recognized hotbed for experimental media, performance art and
The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin with
a wine and cheese reception at 7 p.m., followed at 7:30 p.m. by
presentations by speakers who will participate in breakout sessions
after their talks.
“Many people today, on campus and off, don’t realize
what an amazing and internationally networked arts scene Buffalo
had in the 1970s,” says Elizabeth Otto, associate professor
of modern and contemporary art at UB, and executive director of the
Humanities Institute, “but Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns,
Carolee Schneemann and John Cage all came to Buffalo in a large
part because of the experiments going on here in media study,
music, architecture, literature and other fields.”
The program will reflect that era and that scene.
It will open with “Media Study Emerges,” a talk by
Tony Conrad, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB Department of
Media Study and a pioneering and internationally acclaimed
avant-garde video artist, experimental filmmaker,
musician/composer, sound artist, teacher and writer. His first
film, “The Flicker” (1966), is widely considered a
landmark in structural filmmaking, and in the nearly 50 years
since, he has continued to produce groundbreaking work in music
composition and performance; video art; filmmaking; community
video; video documentation; and home, Web and interventionist
Conrad’s work, which helped put UB on the map of
avant-garde artistic production, continues to be exhibited and
performed in major art museums, performance spaces, experimental
arts centers and universities throughout the world.
Among his colleagues in the media study program here were
brilliant pioneers of video art and filmmaking, among them Paul
Sharits; new media visionary and theorist Gerald O’Grady,
founder and initiator of the Center for Media Study at UB; the
obscure but revolutionary social documentarian James Blue;
filmmaker Hollis Frampton, also a photographer and pioneer of
digital art; electronic artists Walter and Steina Vasulka; and
artist, curator and theoretician Peter Weibel.
Hadas Steiner, associate professor in the UB School of
Architecture and Planning, will present “Banham in
Buffalo,” which will consider the work and times of Peter
Reyner Banham, the influential British architectural critic and
prolific author who was a member of the UB architecture faculty
from 1976 to 1980. Banham famously explored the distinct
architectural cultures of various urban, suburban and rural
ecologies, Buffalo’s among them.
His many books include “Buffalo Architecture: A
Guide” (1981) and famously, “A Concrete Atlantis”
(1989), in which he explored the influence of American industrial
building on modernist European architecture, notably that of the
Bauhaus. That influence was articulated in American “daylight
factories,” of which there are many in Buffalo — the
Larkin, Trico and Alling and Cory buildings, to name a few —
and the monumental grain elevators that still line the city’s
waterfront. Both books remain in print and are considered classics
in their genres.
The third presentation, “The Beginning of the End,”
will be given by Jonathan Katz, UB associate professor of visual
studies. In the 1960s and into the 1970s, UB enjoyed a heady
reputation as the academic home of artistic movers and shakers who
set the tone for artistic experimentation in the United States.
Katz will explore what happened in the 1970s when the campus
shifted from an era of radical artistic expression to one marked by
conservative modes of representation. He will present short clips
from the recordings of two gay and controversial composers, John
Cage and Julius Eastman, both members of UB’s Center for the
Creative and Performing Arts.
Eastman was a gay African-American minimalist composer, pianist,
vocalist and dancer who often gave his pieces titles with
provocative political intent: for example, “Evil
Nigger” and “Gay Guerrilla.”
Cage, who pioneered indeterminacy in music, as well as
electroacoustic music, was perhaps one of the most daring and
innovative composers of the 20th century. He was the romantic
companion of choreographer Merce Cunnnigham, a principal developer
of modern dance, for most of both their lives.
Today Cage and Eastman are recognized as avant-garde music icons
of the gay community.
As part of the program, attorney and businesswoman Eileen
Silvers, BA ’70, will discuss her recollections of UB’s
creative life during this period. Silvers recently pledged $500,000
to UB to help fund a visiting professorship in her name in the
College of Arts and Sciences.