CEPA Gallery is bigger than you think. Its modest storefront window facing Main Street and adjoining street-level gallery gives little indication about the five distinct exhibition spaces scattered throughout the rest of the airy, E. B. Green-designed Market Arcade building.
From the claustrophobic basement gallery to the bright and largely unoccupied third floor, CEPA's retrofitted rooms afford the edgy gallery the opportunity to present shows that can be wildly disparate in aim or medium, but which also pose the steep challenge of linking those spaces thematically when necessary. Not to mention convincing people to enter them in the first place.
You've got to have a curious disposition, said CEPA Director Lawrence Brose, or you'll miss half the action. And through March 21, curious Buffalonians will be rewarded with five shows each pleading in its own voice for a closer look.
"Memory Mapping," an exhibition of work by Sue O'Donnell in the second-floor gallery, could easily kill a day of exploration on its own. O'Donnell is a former graphic designer for CEPA and a University at Buffalo graduate who now teaches art at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Her work is intensely autobiographical, even confessional, and presents itself as much as a form of literature as visual art.
Her 2006 piece "First Memory" is a frenetic, borderline obsessive collection of interconnected sentences that describe O'Donnell's early life experiences. They're arrayed across a 39-by-49-inch series of ultrachrome prints and connected by lines that construct a sort of helter-skelter, "choose-your-own-adventure" narrative. Like the whole ranging, multidisciplinary show, the piece is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant but never once boring.
The floor above hosts "Prism: One Community, Many Perspectives," a showcase of work from local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered artists. Though it has the feeling of an afterthought, the show contains work by some of the region's most talented artists. In particular, Adam Weekley's paintings and fabric-laden sculptures of bees and beehives are whimsical and engaging, as are several of Gerald Mead's meticulous sculpture/collage assemblages and certain of Matthew John Pasquarella's glossy abstract oil paintings on wood. Brose's own crowning achievement in film, the Oscar Wilde-inspired "De Profundis," is also an apt inclusion.
In the main gallery is photographer Penelope Stewart's "Echo Utopias: Excerpts From the Genius Loci Series," a series of flawlessly composed and often large-scale photographs that explore the invisible tensions between nature and architecture. They are intensely beautiful images that can be read as environmental commentaries or pristine ruminations on the idea of growth. But their formal perfection - their symmetry and balance, not a bit tenuous - catches your eye when you enter and is what you walk away remembering.
In CEPA's basement gallery is its annual members' show, with works of predictably mixed quality. Some standouts were Jean-Michel Reed's untitled photograph of a house fire, and the piece awarded best-in-show by guest juror Heather Pesanti of the Albright-Knox, an untitled image of toy horses against a glimmering backdrop by an artist identified, on the label, only as "Richard N. (Artist with Autism)."
The Main Street window, whose content will rotate almost daily through May 30, is under the control of video curator Adriane Little, whose "17 days" project shows one artist a day for 17 days in a row. However, it will feature work from video artist Andrew Kaufman for the next week, after which pieces from several international video artists will be shown (a complete schedule is on CEPA's Web site).’ΔΆ