BUFFALO - For many people, an art gallery seems to be a hostile, unwelcoming place.
Most of them are visually beautiful places, but sadly, many of us are uncomfortable trying to grasp a value or a meaning to the things we see exhibited there.
Actually, that's probably our first mistake.
Albright Knox Art Gallery
I remember once coming into possession of a copy of the U.S. Constitution, written in Italian. Since teaching teens is often made more difficult by their frequent unwillingness to consider value in anything unfamiliar, I remember handing around photocopies of our government's most precious document, and collecting their responses, which included these: ''This doesn't mean anything.''
''This is just junk.''
''Why are you wasting our time with this?''
Obviously, the words on that paper meant a great deal, they had enormous value, and it was very much worth their time to have it suggested that they had a certain responsibility to seriously investigate the value of something, before they reject it.
Most adults would benefit from considering that truth, as well.
Once they recognized that the document had value, and they had some idea of what it said, the students could actually piece together a fairly good understanding of the words which a few minutes earlier were just gibberish. This was especially true, if they worked together. It starts off ''We the people,'' right?
Not surprisingly, though, that was only true for the ones who accepted the challenge and took a crack at doing it. Those who folded their arms and announced that they didn't understand it and didn't care what it said, probably didn't learn much of anything.
I recently braved the snowy highways of Western New York in February to visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, on Buffalo's Elmwood Ave.
The gallery was opening an exhibition of paintings by Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca. The exhibition's title is ''Everything: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008.''
One of the reasons why artists and arts lovers aren't closer to the mainstream in our culture, is that they tend to grasp immediately the value of what they have, and to assume that anyone who can't grasp that value at first glance, isn't worth the time and energy to be helped across the gap. Always, but especially in the current economic situation, that is a serious error on their part.
Even if you're not comfortable with terms such as ''Dialectical oppositions or conjunctions are clearly present, even at this early stage,'' Kuitca has something of value to show you, which you might not have ever known, if you hadn't spent a couple of hours with his work. Let me tell you a bit about it.
THE ARTIST, HIMSELF
Guillermo Kuitca was born in Argentina, in 1961. He began painting at the very early age of 6, and had his first solo show at the age of 13. When he was 15 years old, a military dictatorship calling itself The Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional seized control of his country's government.
Until the dictatorship was overthrown, in 1983, thousands of his countrymen simply disappeared. Among these were friends of his and neighbors of his family. It is assumed that most or all of those missing people were murdered.
He would later say in interviews that he never felt threatened himself by what was happening all around him, but it made him understand the importance of knowing what was happening, and of measuring what information was true and what was not. It also planted in his mind an understanding that the greatest evil in the world looks ordinary and unexceptional to the unquestioning eye. It is what author Hanna Arendt called ''the banality of evil.''
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, those infamous ''experts,'' who know it all and are quick to tell us that we don't know it all, were proclaiming that painting was dead, as an artistic medium.
Kuitca began to question why he should spend his time on this, and whether what he did had any value to anyone else. This ambivalence to the value of painting is visible at various periods of his development.
A number of his paintings represent the moving belts with which airlines return our luggage, when we arrive at our destinations. Some of these are very literal representations of baggage carousels, often with luggage going around on them, but never with anyone shown searching for a bag, or claiming possession of one.
Others are more abstract. For example, one large work imagines that it were possible to gather all the various carousels in an airport, into a large, rectangular space. Some are round. Some are oval. Some are shaped like large capital letters, especially ''C'' and ''E.''
One thing is true of all of them: They don't go anywhere. A bag on any of those odd structures will disappear, then return again and again, forever, unless someone values the bag and makes the effort to claim it.
Throughout the exhibit, Kuitca uses certain symbolic images, over and over. A bed is one image. When one sees a bed, especially painted into a painting, bed-related ideas tend to come to mind. These include comfort, birth, shelter, illness, sleep, sex, and death.
The physically largest exhibit in the Buffalo show is a group of 20 low, single beds, roughly grouped in the center of the largest gallery. As one approaches, one notices what look like bullet holes in the tops of the mattresses, which, as one approaches nearer, turn out to be buttons, which have been sewn into the fabric of the mattress cover - once a common practice in making mattresses.
As one comes directly beside the group of beds, one notices that road maps have been painted on the surfaces of the beds. Often the buttons are directly located where cities or large towns appear on the map. The maps are of different sites, including one of Afghanistan and another of the state of Indiana.
What looks like bullet holes over the cities of either place, tend to be upsetting. In supporting materials to the exhibit, Kuitca says he values the contrast of the bed, which is a very private space, with the road map, which is an utterly public space.
Another frequent image is one which has been borrowed from Sergei Eisenstein's classic 1905 film ''The Battleship Potemkin.'' In the midst of a shooting by czarist troops into a crowd of private citizens, a young woman is shot, whereupon she lets go of the baby carriage which she has been pushing, and the carriage, with its tiny passenger, rolls down a very long set of steps, with bullets flying all around it and people falling and dying.
Yet another image was inspired when the artist went to the Covent Garden Opera House, in London to purchase a ticket to an opera. He was struck, on that occasion, that the chart which is posted at the box office, to show ticket buyers where their seat would be located, presents the seats of the theater from the point of view of the stage - the stage, looking at the seats, instead of the other way around.
A number of grand theaters with a super-imposed seating chart, are displayed.
The exhibit is very large, and there is no sense of going painting by painting, here. I hope I have given you a sense of what is there to be seen.
The Albright-Knox is a truly beautiful building. It is located at 1285 Elmwood Ave., in Buffalo. It is made up of two buildings, connected by two long hallways, with an open air sculpture park, located between the two hallways.
It is located in beautiful Delaware Park. The older building was designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Kuitca exhibition occupies nearly all of that building. If you go up to see it, I hope you will treat yourself to looking out, through the occasional door or window. The contrast of lovely nature and humanity in that park is a work of art, as well.
The newer building, designed by architect Edward B. Green, who designed some of the public buildings at Chautauqua Institution, displays some of the gallery's permanent collection, which is one of the finest collections of late 19th and all of 20th Century art, in the world. Pieces from the collection are hung in the two long hallways between buildings, as well.
The gallery is now open every day of the week, except Mondays. It opens at noon on all six days, and closes at 5 p.m. on all days but Fridays, when it stays open until 10 p.m. Friday evenings after 3 p.m., admission is free of charge, and those who attend then can see both the permanent collection and the temporary exhibits, including the Kuitca exhibit. There are also a number of live lectures and artistic performances, also presented without charge.
Admission at other times is $12 for the general public, $8 for senior citizens and students age 13 and older, and free for children age 12 and younger. Members of the gallery are also admitted free.
To get there from Chautauqua County, take I-90, the New York State Thruway, east, to the exit for Route 33, west, toward Buffalo. That same highway, if taken to the east, leads to the Buffalo International Airport.
Driving west on Route 33, you will come to a branching, where Route 33 angles off to the left, or you can take Route 198 to the right. Take 198 for 2-3 miles. It begins as a city street with cross traffic, but soon turns into an expressway. When the route enters the green space of Delaware Park, look for the exits for Elmwood Avenue. Take the second one, which is labeled ''Art Gallery.''
Once you are on Elmwood Ave., you will see the white marble Albright-Knox Gallery ahead on your left. There is a traffic light to help you turn across traffic. Turn into the gallery's grounds, go around a traffic circle, and you will see a large public parking lot ahead of you. There is a charge to park.
The Guillermo Kuitca exhibit came to Buffalo from the Miami Art Museum. When it closes on May 30, it will continue on, eventually to be shown at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.
For information about any aspect of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, phone 882-8700 or go to their Web site at www.albrightknox.org.
From time to time we print our policies for your information. Any organization wanting a performance or exhibition reviewed should request, preferably in writing, that The Post-Journal review. In the case of conflicting performances, the sponsor requesting first will be reviewed.
No organization will be reviewed which doesn't request to be reviewed. Telling us that a performance will happen will get you an announcement. You have to ask for a review to get one.
Performances whose intent is religious rather than artistic cannot be appropriately reviewed.
Children and youth through high school will not be reviewed, and if they appear in a performance with adults will be named, but not evaluated.
Material intended for publication in The Critical Eye and its ''Winks,'' must be received at least 10 days before the Saturday on which you wish the information to appear. Exceptions are impossible.
Drop announcements in our night mailbox, or mail them to The Post-Journal, P.O. Box 190, Jamestown, NY 14702-0190. Make certain that my name or the name of the column is marked clearly on the outside of the envelope.
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If you're tired of these announcements, please understand, I just finished throwing away 21 announcements of gallery openings, plays, concerts, and other artistic events which people wanted to appear on this page, but I can't help them because they arrived too late to get them into print, before they happen.
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Arts news from the campus of the State University of New York at Fredonia:
Next Saturday at 8 p.m., the College Symphony will perform in King Concert Hall at 8 p.m. with piano soloist Hung-Kuan Chen. There is no admission charge.
The Fredonia Guitar Society will present a series of concerts which are free and open to the public, in Rosch Recital Hall. The first concert of the series is already over. The second will be Thursday at 8 p.m., featuring Gaelle Solal, a prize-winning artist from Paris. The third will be April 6 at 8 p.m., featuring Marko Feri, of Trieste, Italy.
March 7 at 4 p.m., pianist Hamilton Tescarollo will perform a free afternoon recital in Rosch Recital Hall, featuring the performance of music by Haydn, Scarlatti, Ravel, and Chopin.
For a complete listing of music performances at the university, see their web site at www.fredonia.edu/music.
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Arts news from the campus of Mercyhurst College, in Erie:
Wednesday at 2:15 and 7:15 p.m., see the independent film ''The Maid,'' in which a servant is caused to question for the first time, the family which she has served for 25 years. Admission is $6 for the general public, $5 for senior citizens and students, and free for Mercyhurst students. The film is shown in the Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center.
Friday at 8 p.m. attend a performance by the Tchaikovsky Ballet Theatre of the classic ballet ''Sleeping Beauty,'' featuring more than 60 dancers, opulent sets and costumes, and all which goes with them. Tickets are $50 for Gold Circle Seating, $45 for the public, $40 for senior citizens and students and $25 for youth and Mercyhurst students. It's in the D'Angelo Center.
March 9, attend a live lecture by broadcast, from New York City's 92nd St. Y, presented by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tickets are $5.
Reserve tickets for all these events by phoning (814) 824-3000, or by computer at pac.mercyhurst.edu.
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Two different concerts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, this weekend:
Tonight, attend a pops concert, featuring a live performance by Rita Moreno, one of the few artists in the world who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. She will sing music from ''West Side Story,'' '' Singing in the Rain,'' and ''The King and I,'' among others. It begins at 8 p.m. There are no ticket prices on the news release.
Tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, attend a concert titled ''To Think That I Saw It on Symphony Circle,'' a Family Series concert featuring music inspired by the writing of Dr. Seuss. Tickets are $8 for children and $14 for adults.
Both concerts will be in Kleinhans Music Hall, Symphony Circle, in Buffalo. To reserve tickets for either concert, phone 885-5000 or go to their website at www.bpo.org.
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Three events are coming up at Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St., in downtown Buffalo:
The Irish dance and music show ''Riverdance'' will give what are labeled as ''five farewell performances,'' next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., plus Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets range in price from $34.50 to $59.50.
Tickets are already on sale - and are expected to sell out - to hear the single performance of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, on April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $48.50 and $58.50.
Tickets are already on sale for the professional touring company production of the musical ''Grease,'' featuring American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Previous announcements that television performer Ace Young will be in the cast have been changed, because he has dropped out of the cast. Josh Franklin will perform his role. Performances will be March 23-28. Tickets range in price from $27.50 to $62.50.
Reserve tickets for all three productions by phone at (800) 745-3000, or by computer at www.sheas.org. Purchase tickets in person at the Shea's box office or at any Ticketmaster outlet.
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The Irish Classical Theatre Company is now presenting a production of ''The Lonesome West,'' by Martin McDonagh, in the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St., in downtown Buffalo.
Performances will continue Thursdays through Sundays until March 28. For information or to reserve tickets, phone 853-ICTC or go to www.irishclassicaltheatre.com.
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Two events at MusicalFare Theatre, on the campus of Daemen College in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst:
Opening Wednesday and continuing through April 3, see the play ''Falsettos'' by William Finn. Tickets are $32 and $36. Reserve by phoning 839-8540 or by computer at www.musicalfare.com.
March 16, the company offers a chance to meet and have coffee or tea with two of the leading actors in their productions. Debbie Pappas and Marc Sacco will be in the lobby for hot drinks and desserts at 7 p.m., followed by a question and answer session in the theater, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.Tickets are $15, and the same phone number and web address will work for them.