by Ed Healy

burchfieldgrainelevatorsDespite the fact that the museum occupied cramped quarters for the first forty years of its existence, the Burchfield Penney Art Center is legendary for its exhibition openings – arty parties packed with lovers of good food, fine wine and painting, photography and multimedia installations. This past Friday was no exception and, in fact, featured an even larger crowd than those of the recent past since the BPAC has now moved into a new 84,000 square foot home. Designed by New York’s Gwathmey Siegel Associates, this new space was designed to not only show off the best of Buffalo’s vibrant visual arts scene, but to accommodate throngs of art loving patrons intent on having a good time. Much of the second floor of the museum was designed with large gatherings in mind and even features a huge balcony overlooking Elmwood Avenue and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. This space is warm, inviting and has a great view — so it’s no surprise that art lovers are attracted to it and the programming going on within.

The occasion for Friday’s opening was an exhibit of Burchfield’s sketches and paintings entitled “Charles Burchfield: The Romance of Urban Decay.” Like his contemporary Edward Hopper, Burchfield, at least in the early part of his career, was a poet of ordinary, everyday American reality. His subject matter in this instance includes grain elevators along the Buffalo River, wood frame houses in the Allentown district, the once lively commercial strip along Genesee Street and an enchanting portrait of the Electric Tower, the former home of Niagara Mohawk. While much of Buffalo’s urban fabric has been altered, much remains and it’s fascinating to make a mental inventory of the passage of time in these very familiar landscapes. Visitors to the exhibit will also find much to hold their attention in the notes Burchfield made as he sketched in the field. He was a dedicated diarist and talented writer and the exhibit allows you to look over his shoulder, a witness to the creative process of an artist of the highest caliber.

Friday night’s opening also featured a concert by Ronny Whyte and Boots Malestrom in the Burchfield’s new auditorium. This gorgeous and acoustically pristine space was filled to capacity and seems to have very quickly found a place as a must-see performance venue in a city filled with them.

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