Virginia Cuthbert (1908-2001), The Birthday Party, 1956-57; oil on canvas, 30 x 41 7/8 inches (Frame: 32 3/8 x 44 inches); Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney
The Birthday Party: A Community of Artists
Presented by James and Joy Brandys
On View Friday, April 8, 2016–Sunday, January 15, 2017
The community in Buffalo is always heralded as generous, gracious and considerate – as we like to say, “We are The City of Good Neighbors.”
July 2016 marks the beginning of the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s year long celebration of our 50th anniversary. As is the case with hallmark celebrations, we will look intensely at the work of Charles E. Burchfield and consider what his incredible work means for our time. We will look at what the region represents and what it means to be of Western New York and consider our collections and the exemplary works by our artists.
There is no better or more fitting way to lead into this experience than to celebrate and pay homage to a group of artists that defined the arts community at the time of our inception. Charles Burchfield, Harriet Greif, Seymour Drumlevitch, Virginia Cuthbert, Philip Elliot, Virginia Tillou, and Martha Visser’t Hooft are all captured in the painting, The Birthday Party, by Virginia Cuthbert. This painting, from 1956-57, documents the gathering of artists in celebration.
It is because of these artists and those that preceded and followed them that The Center exists. Nancy Jewett a founding member of the Burchfield Penney, who passed away in January of this year, shared a story with us about our origin – this is one of the many stories that some may not know about why Buffalo, NY needed a museum dedicated to its artists. During a panel discussion about our history she conveyed, “At the time [early 1960s] many of us were involved in the arts in Buffalo, as artists, members of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and a variety of artist organizations. There seemed to be so much going on with art in the city that expecting that the Gallery could recognize them seemed impossible. It became important to think about something new, just for the artists of the region.”
It was from this idea, germinated by a handful including The Center’s founding Director, Edna M. Lindemann and Buffalo State Teachers College, that research into our possibility took flight. Starting primarily with Charles Burchfield, the artists in The Birthday Party, were the artists that they thought about when creating something meaningful and lasting. What makes Buffalo and Western New York unique in the arts is not that we have great institutions – many cities our size have a grand museum, concert hall and theater. Our abundance of cultural activity comes from something more; it comes from artist run organizations, mid and small sized presenting organizations, and most of all, at the core, artists. They create the substance, they are primary and begin the conversation and answer the question, “Why do we need a regional art museum?”
Many exhibitions rely on a single vision that expresses a hopeful perspective — an idea for one person will be appealing to many. At the Burchfield Penney, this is sometimes the case, but more frequently exhibitions and ideas emerge from a group of people collectively determining not just what could be done but how it can be accomplished. The question, simple as it might be, “What about a show that is focused on a single painting and the artists it depicts?” posed by John and Carol Kociela immediately inspired a response of why and why not. Mostly originating from a love of the work of Virginia Cuthbert and work of the artists of the 20th century, it revealed something greater.
The selection of work for this exhibition then took a formal direction, involving all of the members our curatorial team. Nancy Weekly, Tullis Johnson, Heather Gring, Bill Menshon, Tom Holt, Robert Cutrona, Patrick Robideau and I set out to create something that was greater than a simple encyclopedic representation of each artist – an honorific remembrance. All of this would not have been possible without the generous support from Joy and Jim Brandys, Buffalo State Alumni who understand the value of our people and our region.
- Scott Propeack, chief curator/associate director