As a student studying art history at the University of Buffalo, I am often reminded of how influential art is, not only on my education, but, on contemporary culture. Luckily, Buffalo is a bustling city for art, with more than a handful of museums and festivals solely dedicated to exhibiting both canonized and local talent. Universities and colleges largely contribute to the art force in Buffalo. Perhaps most notable is the Burchfield Penney Art Museum, a stunning museum in affiliation with Buff State. However, after some digging, I realized that Niagara University, too, has a large art museum: the Castellani.
According to the museum’s official website, the Castellani Art Museum has been around since about 1980, after Mr. and Mrs. Castellani donated an enormous amount of art to Niagara Community College. I was surprised to read that Mr. Castellani was not only a philanthropist and art collector, but also the president of Tops Markets in his lifetime! (It struck me as a strange combination). Since its construction, the collection has grown immensely – and has been further expanded by notable philanthropists – Seymour H. Knox included.
I ventured to the Castellani with a friend on a rainy Saturday afternoon – one of my favorite climates for museum-going. To my pleasant surprise, admission into the museum was free! The only drawback, however, was that photography was not allowed. So, in lieu of photographs, I will do my best to describe the museum and do it justice:
As opposed to the Albright Knox’s fusion between classic and Bauhaus architecture, the Castellani’s exterior is bold and modern – the bright white paint jumps out against the serene campus backdrop. Upon looking at it, I knew that something special was within. I walked in, anticipating all the artwork waiting for me inside. As I entered, I was surprised to see that the interior was immense, particularly in the foyer. Like the Burchfield Penney, the Castellani’s foyer had high ceilings (a feature I’m always fond of). I felt so small next to the massive walls; this feeling increased tenfold when I walked up to the walls to see the paintings that decorated them. I was greeted by giant canvases, covered in explosions of color.
In terms of content, the Castellani features a balance among historical documents, student-made art, and canonized art. Though most of what I saw was abstract art, I noticed some works I had never seen by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I spent a lot of time gazing at Basquiat’s portrait photography – I believe it was called “Intimate Portrait Series.” The Castellani also featured an exhibit called, “Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery.” This exhibit included historical documents, art, and photography, and as the title suggests, examined how art has been effected by slavery. I had never seen such an emphasis on history in an art museum before, and I found this an intriguing mixture.
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Still, what impressed me the most was the work produced by the students. In my opinion, their exhibit was the most alluring and well-thought out part of the museum. I was excited when I saw a curtained doorway with instructions to enter. My best friend and I walked through the mysterious veil to find a series of glow in the dark artwork. The light was choreographed to shift every so often, making some pieces stand out more than others, depending on the lighting. There were installations, paintings, sculptures — and I even saw a dress! We spent a lot of time in there, and the initial awe never wore off for me. I felt like I was transported into another planet, and I didn’t want to leave.
Admittedly, I spent much longer looking at student-made art, rather than the canonized art. I don’t get to see student-made work often, and it’s a pleasure to see contemporary minds at work, with visible, tangible results. Sometimes, art takes the backseat in lieu of science and math, but, it honestly has such value, and explores many facets of society. Buffalo is great because it has so many locations that display all different kinds of art (among many other reasons!). To know that students are being supported, with their talents showcased to the community, fills me with an immense sense of pride. I hope that more places sponsor young artists, and I will continue to seek them out!
It’s even more important to remember that young minds are contributing to, and soon will be carrying, our artistic community. To show your support, I strongly suggest that everyone go spend some time at the Castellani, and focus on what the students are creating. If you’d like to check out more student art, I would suggest stopping by the Center for the Arts at the University of Buffalo (The Center for the Arts is open to the public Monday – Saturday, 7am – 11pm; and Sunday, 11am – 11pm.); they have excellent work on display all throughout the building (even the basement walls are covered in exquisite graffiti!). Stay tuned for more!
HOURS OF OPERATION: Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Sunday 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.; Closed Mondays
Niagara University, NY 14109 | 716.286.8200
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