Sunday, December 11, 2016

Escape from Buffalo

I have been planning for a while to get to the Picasso exhibit at the Albright-Knox.  Initially, I had anticipated going on Sunday (today), but the weather forecast started calling for snow on Sunday (possibly as high as 10 cm through Monday morning, though I don't actually think Toronto will get that much).  Nonetheless, it usually snows considerably more in Buffalo, so I decided to switch the plans around and go Saturday morning, bringing my son along for the trip.

We didn't have too much trouble in getting to the Greyhound station, though we had to leave early and I was quite tired on the bus ride.  I had anticipated getting in 5 or 6 hours of reading in total, so I actually switched books and took David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, which is considerably longer than Steve Zipp's Yellowknife.  In the end, I managed to get through a bit under 200 pages, which is still a decent chunk of the book.  However, I could have stuck it out with Yellowknife, and it might actually have been a bit more appropriate, given that Zipp is writing about a city in a very cold climate with its share of eccentrics.  (I'm not quite sure how I feel about The Pale King.  I'm glad that readers have a chance to read it, but it is a sad book, full of death and suicide (perhaps it functions on a meta-level as Wallace's cry for help).  It isn't likely to be on my top ten list for the year.)

It was a bit unusual that there were only 19 passengers on the bus, but it meant that there was no problem in finding a good seat.  It was a bit frustrating to get hung up at customs for 20+ minutes.  Our bus breezed through, and the charter bus right before us.  But the one before that must have had a number of people without visas or perhaps some passenger was suspected of smuggling something.  Anyway, kind of a drag.  We did manage to get to downtown Buffalo around 12:30, which was slightly ahead of scheduled time, but we ought to have made it just after noon.  Given that we had to mail off a few things at the post office, and then go to the Albright-Knox, I decided we didn't want to gamble on getting back for the 4:30 bus and booked the 6:55 return instead.

It was pretty cold in Buffalo, but there was no snow.  I don't think we managed to get to the museum until 2:30. 

Obviously, we would have made better time taking a cab or Ubering it, but we stuck to the local bus or walking (to and from the post office).

The main attraction at the Albright-Knox right now is of course the Picasso exhibit, which runs through Feb. 19, but to get to it, you first walk through an exhibit called Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?  Drexler is a relatively unknown pop artist, who was big into recycling (images, that is).  One of the droller moments in the show is that Warhol did a series of images of Rosalyn Drexler in her role as a woman wrestler.

I wasn't blown away by her exhibit, but there were a few interesting pieces.

Rosalyn Drexler, Shadow Figures in the City, 1962

Rosalyn Drexler, Night Visitors, 1988

The crowds at the Picasso exhibit were very manageable, and we had no trouble in looking at the various paintings (it was slightly busier than this, but not by much).

The exhibit had two rooms dedicated entirely to Picasso, but then another 4 rooms with paintings from the same period, drawing on the museum's collections.  Honestly, most of these paintings were stronger than the Picasso's.

I was glad to see a few of their cubist paintings (Braque and Juan Gris) and some of the surrealist paintings.  But it didn't make any particular sense to include the Stuart Davis in one of the other rooms.  Why Davis and not Beckmann?  (Again, I have a bit of an axe to grind that they still haven't reinstalled Beckmann's Hotel Lobby in the last two years, since they sent it off to Milwaukee.)

Anyway, here are some of the non-Picasso highlights of the exhibit.

Kurt Schwitters, Difficult, 1942-43

Giorgio de Chirico The Anguish of Departure, 1913–14

Robert Delaunay, Soleil, tour, aeroplane, 1913

As far as the Picasso's, La Toilette (1906) from the Albright-Knox and Three Musicians (1921) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art are the stand out pieces (both shown above).

I also quite liked this painting from the Wadsworth Atheneum* and two prints from the Albright-Knox.

Pablo Picasso, The Women of Algiers (after Delacroix), 1954

Pablo Picasso, The Black Pitcher and Death's Head, 1946

Pablo Picasso, In the Studio, 1965

The rest of the Albright-Knox had a few treasures that we hadn't seen previously, or at least not that I can recall.  I'm still hoping that they reinstall their Beckmann soon, and I'll definitely ask the next time I am considering making a visit (probably late 2017 or 2018).

Oskar Kokoschka, London, Large Thames View I, 1926

Robert Rauschenberg, Painting with Red Letter S, 1957

We hopped on the bus back downtown and were anxiously watching the clock.  We actually lost a few minutes when the police blocked the road to let a bus full of visiting NHL players speed along!  We ran over to the terminal.  It was 4:30, but the bus hadn't left yet!  Unfortunately, the driver wouldn't take us, since we didn't have open tickets and the clerk was extremely slow.  I imagine it would have cost another $20, and I just didn't feel like paying the difference.

So we went back out to do a bit of shopping in downtown Buffalo.  While there were fewer construction barriers up, Buffalo's downtown just seems drearier each time I visit.  The strip mall where I had bought some shoes on the last visit now appears to be completely vacant (possibly the food court still operates).  I wouldn't have been completely surprised to see a couple of zombies from Dawn of the Dead shuffling along...

We did get a few things at Rite Aid and looked at the Christmas lights in this park.

Most of the restaurants were closed or closing (even the Tim Horton's closed at 6 pm!), but we did stop in at this Chinese restaurant I had eaten at on the last visit.  It was also empty and desolate.

After we got back, I looked up some of the stats about Buffalo, and it has lost essentially half the population it had in 1950, and its population is just over 250,000 today.  Most tellingly, the average household income is under $25,000, so not only is it a shrinking city, it is a very poor one as well.

When we got back to the bus station, we saw a great big sign saying that all buses to Cleveland (and indeed any points west) were cancelled.  There was a big snowstorm in Ohio that had closed off all the major roads!  They really didn't seem too concerned about what people were going to do, and some stranded passengers probably got hotel rooms but others were just going to camp out in the station apparently.  Fortunately, the buses heading on to New York City were unaffected, and the 6:55 bus back to Toronto was fine (and indeed far less crowded than the one that left at 4:30, so that was a bonus).  As unpleasant as it would have been to be stuck in Cleveland overnight (as almost happened to me last December), getting stuck in Buffalo would have been worse.  So we managed to get out of Buffalo without seeing any meaningful snowfall.  On the whole it was a decent trip, though mostly it reminds me that I am glad I don't live in Buffalo.

* I didn't recall immediately this, but I actually had seen the painting from the Wadsworth Atheneum in 2004, when it was on loan to the Phillips Collection.  I actually had seen many of these Picasso's previously.  The best painting I had never previously seen in person was this one from Fondation Beyeler, located right outside Basel, Switzerland.

Pablo Picasso, Le Sauvetage (The Rescue), 1932

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