The public art scene in Buffalo is exploding. Every month seems to bring a new mural or art installation that’s adding color, texture and unexpected forms to the city’s streets and public spaces. Propelled by the Public Art Initiative at the Albright-Knox, Buffalo is becoming an urban museum of vibrant contemporary art. Both local and visiting artists are using the Buffalo streetscape as a canvas for self-expression and civic beautification.
Here’s a sampling of some my favorite new pieces of public art, moving from the Outer Harbor district through downtown, Allentown, the East Side and on to North Buffalo.
At 30-feet tall and 3,000 pounds, the Flat Man sculpture cuts quite a figure as it towers over the Lake Erie shoreline at the Bell Slip, not far from Fuhrmann Blvd. Created by the late Buffalo sculptor Larry Griffis, Jr. in 1963, Flat Man could be found at the Griffis Sculpture Park in nearby East Otto for much of its existence. Now the piece presides over a dramatic setting on the Outer Harbor. Whether reflecting the morning light or creating a dramatic silhouette as the sun sets over Lake Erie, Flat Man is a compelling addition to Buffalo’s public art portfolio that will give a walk or bike ride along the Greenway Trail a sense of wonder and surprise.
Inspired by vintage postcards, local artist Casey Milbrand created a strikingly beautiful mural on a wall near Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo in late 2016. Architecture buffs will be interested to know that the yellow and golden-hued sunburst that anchors the “Greetings from Buffalo” mural is the artist’s homage to the signature stained glass window in the Common Council Chambers in Buffalo City Hall. This is a shareable, Instagrammable site that’s also a delicately rendered work of art.
Buffalo artist Shasti O’Leary Soudant was commissioned to create a public art installation at the Allen Street Metro Station that is part of the new University at Buffalo Medical School building. “Gut Flora” is a head-turning sculptural installation that takes what would otherwise be an ordinary transit stop and turns it into a garden of multicolored delights. Working with local business Rigidized Metals, Shasti employed the company’s lightweight stainless steel panels to fabricate a series of undulating limbs – resembling the structure of DNA, according to the artist — that climb from the station’s floor to ceiling, forming a magical forest of color. Take the Metrorail to Allen and prepare to be amazed.
Four Buffalo artists took a blank and forbidding concrete wall at the corner of Michigan and East Ferry Streets and transformed it into a celebration of African-American identity and heritage over the course of the summer of 2017. Portraits of 28 African-American icons, both local and national leaders, are included on “The Freedom Wall,” which stretches for two city blocks and now serves as a northern entrance to the city’s Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. Created by artists John Baker, Edreys Wajed, Chuck Tingley and Julia Bottoms-Douglas, the wall was conceived as a permanent outdoor exhibition with text panels identifying each of the icons represented and an introductory panel explaining the process and intent of the artists. It’s a stirring mixture of art, history and consciousness raising that should not be missed.
London-based art star Shantell Martin left her mark on Buffalo with the creation of “Dance Everyday,” an enormous black and white mural on Delavan Avenue near Fillmore on the city’s East Side. Martin, a rising star in the contemporary art world, has a playful, almost cartoon-like, style of line drawing punctuated by phrases such as “Yes We Can” and “Dance Everyday.” The work is fun, accessible and upbeat. It should find a place on every art lover’s visit to Buffalo.
Buffalo and Buffalonians have been known to flaunt our connection to the fur-covered behemoths who once roamed the Great Plains by the millions. While far fewer in number in their natural stomping grounds today, they are increasingly being seen in and around their namesake city. Case in point: the “Magic Buffalo” by artist Bunnie Reiss that recently appeared on the side of Joe’s Deli at the corner of Hertel and Colvin Avenues in North Buffalo. Standing two stories tall and visible from blocks away, Magic Buffalo is a colorful addition to the city’s inventory of iconic Buffalo images.
– Ed Healy