Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Buffalo?

The question certainly begs to be asked... why did I choose to go to Buffalo? That's a perfectly understandable question. Like many other Rust Belt cities (like Cleveland and our own 'Burgh), Buffalo has a bit of a bad rap. The problem is that many of the people who choose to talk shit on the city have never even visited (boy, where did I hear that one before?). What did I know about Buffalo? I knew that the Bills played there. I knew it was on Lake Erie. And I got what I thought was a representative look at the place by watching Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66. In fact that's one of my favorite films of all time. So why wouldn't I want to compare the real thing to Gallo's cinematic representation of it?

Listen, I had two nights that I could spend going anywhere I so chose. M. was perfectly alright with letting me get away for a couple of days. I wanted to pick a place within easy driving distance. I've already spent time in Erie, Cleveland, Wheeling, Philly, NYC, Baltimore, DC, and Columbus. There was only one city of any significant size within five hours that I hadn't been to, and I couldn't give a good reason for that omission. Was I going to let Buffalo's reputation as a dreary, depressed area keep me from experiencing it for myself? Hell, no. So the day before I left, I got on the internet to try to make a list of destinations in the area. I realized quickly enough that there would be plenty to see.

I was also a bit puzzled as to why Carnegie Museum of Art Assistant Curator Heather Pesanti would choose to make the Albright-Knox Art Gallery her follow-up to the time she has spent working on the 2008 Carnegie International. I'm aware that the exhibition carries a fair amount of international clout, and is billed by some to be the best contemporary art survey in North America. What did Buffalo have to compare to that? It turns out that there is quite a lot to recommend Albright-Knox to the rising art administrator. Who would have known? Well, actually John Morris (curator for the now defunct Digging Pitt Gallery) was aware of the standard of excellence set by Albright-Knox. And he's my trusted source when it comes to anything in the modern-day art world.

But I probably wouldn't have been excited to go to Western New York if I hadn't identified some additional attractions. I learned about the Herschel Carousel Museum and the Fisher Price factory campus. I discovered the existence of an arts organization founded by a bunch of Buffalo students that included Cindy Sherman. I did a search for used book stores of note. I read up on the trendy neighborhoods of Elmwood and Allentown. I devoured information on the unwholesome foods that Buffalo is famous for. At one point I wondered if I had allotted myself ample time to see everything there was to see. It turned out that I hadn't, so I had to prioritize right from the start.

My initial impressions upon arriving in Buffalo were favorable. Even though I entered the city during rush hour, there was very little traffic. I suppose that is due in part to the decline in population that the once bustling trade center has experienced over the last several decades. There are now less than 300,000 people within its official limits, and about a million in its metropolitan area. Much of the action is focused on the long streets that split Buffalo vertically- Delaware and Elmwood. It was refreshing to see the type of commercial density that occurs in a city with a grid pattern, few hills, and no rivers. I had no problem getting around. Unlike Pittsburgh, it is a bit difficult to get lost.

More Details to Follow...

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