Published January 22, 2018
The six-decade career of groundbreaking artist and UB faculty member Tony Conrad will be the focus of a special exhibition co-presented by the UB Art Galleries and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
“Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective,” which includes major artworks by Conrad installed at both institutions, runs from Feb. 8 through May 26 at the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts and from March 3 through May 27 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Opening receptions will take place from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 8 at UB and from 5-7 p.m. March 2 at the Albright-Knox, which will feature a public conversation between artist Tony Oursler and art historian Branden W. Joseph at 7:15 p.m. in the Auditorium.
The UB Art Gallery will host a second reception, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 3, in conjunction with the March 2 opening at the Albright-Knox.
All receptions are free and open to the public.
Throughout his career, Conrad — a SUNY Distinguished Professor who served on the UB faculty for nearly 40 years until his death in 2016 — forged his own path through numerous artistic movements, from Fluxus to the Pictures Generation and beyond.
Although he was best known for his pioneering contributions to both minimal music and structural film in the 1960s, his work helped define a vast range of culture, including rock music and public television. He once declared in an interview, “You don’t know who I am, but somehow, indirectly, you’ve been affected by things I did.”
This exhibition, the first large-scale museum survey devoted to artworks Conrad presented in museum and gallery settings, is part of an ongoing reappraisal of his creative achievement. Due to the extraordinary scope of Conrad’s contributions to art and culture, this retrospective may well be seen as only an “introduction.”
“As an artist, musician, community activist, trenchant critic of the media status quo and UB professor for 40 years, Tony Conrad made an enormous impact,” says Cathleen Chaffee, chief curator at the Albright-Knox. “This exhibition honors both the Albright-Knox and UB’s long relationship with Conrad, which in both cases dates to his arrival in Buffalo in 1976.”
Adds Rachel Adams, senior curator of exhibitions at the UB Art Galleries: “It was only toward the end of his life that Tony Conrad’s visual art was embraced by museums and galleries with the same enthusiasm that had met his films and music. We are proud to collaborate with the Albright-Knox to realize this first large-scale museum survey that honors his work as an artist.”
Conrad’s first film, “The Flicker” (1966) — a stroboscopic experiment famous for its attack on both the filmic medium and its audience’s senses — soon led to projects where he treated film as a sculptural and performative material.
In “Sukiyaki Film” (1973), for instance, Conrad rapidly stir-fried film and hurled it at the screen, and in his “Yellow Movies” (1972–73), he coated paper surfaces with cheap white paint and presented them as slowly changing “films.”
He invented musical instruments out of materials as humble as a Band-Aid tin, and presented such acoustical tools as sculptures themselves. In the 1980s, his ambitious films about power relations in the army and in prisons evoked and critiqued what he perceived as an emerging culture of surveillance, control and containment. His regular programs for public-access television made him an influential voice within the community. Each of these bodies of work will be represented through different examples on view at both the Albright-Knox and at UB.
A deep-rooted contributor to the cultural life of Buffalo, Conrad was a member of the faculty of the UB Department of Media Study from 1976 until his death. He was a founder of Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center, and was a frequent collaborator with Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
In conjunction with “Introducing Tony Conrad,” these community partners are presenting associated installations, screenings, performances and more, through May 2018.
After it closes in Buffalo, the exhibition will travel to the List Visual Arts Center at MIT and to the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, where it will be on view from October 2018 to January 2019, and to the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in February 2019.