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  • 10.07.10

Turning Buffalo’s Urban Blight Into Hulking Sculptures

Meet Buffalo’s answer to Gordon Matta Clark.

Turning Buffalo’s Urban Blight Into Hulking Sculptures

Dennis Maher‘s sculptures are precisely what they seem to be: Old buildings that’ve been razed, slashed, busted, and shattered then thrown into an artful jumble as if Gordon Matta Clark had gotten his hands on a wrecking ball.

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The story behind them is perhaps less obvious. Back in 2002, Maher was an adjunct architecture professor at University at Buffalo, desperate for some extra cash (as all adjuncts are), so he took a job in demolition, one of few industries Buffalo has in spades. (The decision was also informed by his desire to “fuse my art and my life,” he tells us in an email.) Shocked by the magnitude of waste, Maher started collecting scraps — pieces of an old mansion here, a storage facility there. Then he fused them into massive, messy sculptures, some now on display in a pair of galleries: the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo and the Black & White Gallery / Project Space in Brooklyn, where he was an artist-in-residence over the summer.

“I’m formulating a practice that combines art, architecture and civic activism,? Maher, who’s now an assistant professor, tells Buffalo’s press department. ?Demolition is a form of cultural erasure. I’m interested in what that does to the urban fabric and to communities.”

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Maher certainly has plenty of material to work with. Even though Buffalo is enjoying something of an architectural renaissance, with a new visitor’s center by Toshiko Mori, the restoration of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and other projects, the city still has 10,000 structures awaiting the bulldozer. Co-opting condemned buildings has become something of a pastime for architects eager to play around on a 1:1 scale or make political statements about urban blight in shrinking Rust Belt cities, from Youngstown to Detroit (see some of our coverage here). Maher is the first — as far as we know, anyway — to turn it into a second career. And that, alongside the art, are two perfect symbols of these post-recession times.

For more info, visit Maher’s website.

[Top images courtesy of the Burchfield Penney Art Center; bottom two images courtesy of the Black & White Gallery/ Project Space]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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