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Castellani Art Museum Press Release
Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University will host two exhibition receptions celebrating “Biological Regionalism: Niagara River, Western New York” by Alberto Rey on Thursday, April 20, from 4-6 p.m. for CAM Members and the Niagara University community, and from 6-8 p.m. for the public.
“For some people, including myself, seeing a body of water is like viewing a sacred being, and when it’s desecrated, you feel like you have to do something,” Rey said. “The majority of people might not be aware of the river’s condition, because it might not be easily decipherable by sight and they are most likely not going to read an academic report about it. The value of art, however, is that it can bring awareness to certain issues by using aesthetics as a universal element that can cross social and political lines.”
This exhibition – the 12th in Rey’s “Biological Regionalism” series – explores the complexities of the sacred Niagara River and Falls past and present. Utilizing lushly illustrated narratives, his large-scale paintings reflect the Niagara River’s historical significance to Native Americans, enslaved people, and the pollution of the river and communities along its 36-mile stretch of U.S. and Canadian shores.
CAM Curator Michael J. Beam said, “We’re thrilled to showcase Rey’s latest beautiful, eye-opening body of work highlighting our adjacent waterway in our Central Gallery. His artworks are the byproduct of drawings, photographs, government reports, topographic maps, tourist photographs, and a genuine desire for environmental change. Acoustic surroundings he recorded while on the river emanate throughout this exhibition. A massive hand-painted river map featuring historical timelines and locations also heightens the visitor experience.”
Rey was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1960 and received political asylum through Mexico in 1963 due to his revolutionary father's stance against Fidel Castro. In 1965, he moved to Miami. In 1967, his family permanently relocated to Barnesboro, Pennsylvania (now called Northern Cambria). Just before starting his MFA in drawing and painting at the University at Buffalo (circa 1980), tragedy struck: He learned that his grandmother had drowned when the boat she was a passenger in attempting to flee Cuba capsized.
“I realized that I never had any memories of her,” Rey said. “I wanted to learn about my Cuban culture and relatives before more of them passed away, and I didn’t want to lose that connection to my homeland.”
Rey’s 1995 CAM exhibition, “The Incongruence of Memory,” featuring abstract paintings, iconography and depictions of realistic cultural objects, represented his inspiring autobiographical journey.
After finally returning to Cuba, he reconnected with his Cuban heritage, his family, and visions of his home, and in 2000, he was ready for a new undertaking. Motivated by the Hudson River School artists – who have become aesthetic surveyors of America's wilderness – Rey felt he might provide a similar mirror on contemporary environments. Over the past two decades, his ecological works have included “The Species Project” (fish conservation) at University of Virginia, Charlottesville; “Extinct Birds Project”; “Bagmati River,” Kathmandu Valley, Nepal; “Lost Beauty: Icebergs (Iceland)”; Scajaquada Creek, Erie County, New York; Oswego River and Lake Ontario, Central New York, et al.
“There is no shortage of issues that could have been addressed in this exhibition,” Rey said. “But I have concentrated my efforts on a few narratives that I found the most interesting and enlightening about the Niagara River. All significant change starts with small steps. I hope my work will inspire people to take those steps in their own lives and also consider supporting organizations that protect these natural assets.”
Rey is an Emeritus State University of New York Distinguished Professor; founder and director of a youth fly fishing program; fly fishing guide; filmmaker, writer and potter. His work has been featured in over 200 exhibitions internationally. His paintings are included in major collections, such as CAM, National Museum of Wildlife Art, Albright Knox Gallery, Bronx Museum, El Museo del Barrio, Brooklyn Museum, Galeria Nina Menocal in Mexico City, and Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Caja de Burgos in Spain.
“Biological Regionalism: Niagara River, Western New York” is on view through Feb. 25, 2024. To RSVP for the opening reception on Thursday, April 20, visit bit.ly/biologicalregionalism. Light refreshments will be served.
A curator-led exhibition tour of “Biological Regionalism” will be held during Environmental Justice Day at CAM from 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27.
Reservations to attend the “Biological Regionalism” special curator tour led by Alberto Rey from 1-2 p.m. Saturday, May 6, can be made at bit.ly/campublictours.