By Jill Keppeler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — The painted eyes of a portrait of Andrew Carnegie watch over the entrance to the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda — fitting, as the 109-year-old building was constructed as one of the many libraries funded by the philanthropist and industrialist.
But through July 12, another set of Carnegie eyes are overlooking the art center, as “Exceptional Steel,” an exhibit by Paul Klonowski, winner of the Carnegie’s 2012 Members Show, gives center patrons an expanded look into the life and times of a complicated man. It’s running in combination with “Synesthesia,” a photography exhibit by Marcus L. Wise
Klonowski’s exhibit includes 17 pieces of work in charcoal and gouache, all centered around images of the steel industry, Carnegie and his life and those of his associates, including Henry Clay Frick, and the mill workers whose labor built their fortunes.
While Carnegie was a philanthropist who funded thousands of libraries throughout the world, promoting education, music and art by giving away millions of dollars, he first built his vaunted fortune by leading the expansion of the U.S. steel industry in the 1800s.
Carnegie Steel was not without its controversies, including the Homestead Strike of 1892, during which 10 men were killed and hundreds injured, and the role therein of Frick, Carnegie’s partner and associate — a man once considered one of the most hated men in America.
Yet even Frick was a patron of the arts, whose massive collection is now a public museum, Klonowski said.
“I figured it was a great jumping-off point, it’s a really interesting subject, too,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to really explore something. There’s a lot of rich material there.”
One piece represents the attempted assassination of Frick by anarchist Alexander Berkman, which resulted in Frick being injured — but Berkman’s arrest and the ultimate backlash of public feeling against the Homestead Strike, which collapsed.
The piece at the center of the exhibit, a collage titled “Common Mass” features a number of images — including that set of Carnegie eyes — and shows the evolution of a man whose career had results both terrible and wonderful, Klonowski said.
“The last part of his life, after JP Morgan bought him out ... there was so much good that he did,” he said. “But there’s still a strong thread of mixed feelings.
“And it wasn’t just Carnegie. Tycoons from back then ... they all believed they were God’s gift.”
Cindi O’Mara, Carnegie board member and chair of exhibitions, said “Exceptional Steel” brings a nice element of history to the gallery that owes its very existence to Carnegie.
“It’s something we forget about,” she said. “It’s kind of neat to have all this tie in to all the history here.”
As Klonowski also had another show opening Friday at Art Dialogue Gallery in Buffalo, he invited Wise to share his Carnegie Center tenure, resulting in “Synesthesia,” running in the center’s side gallery.
Wise said the title refers to the neurological condition in which two senses can fire off at the same time. In the exhibit, he evokes the confluence of hearing and vision — playing with the idea of music and art with close-up shots of musical instruments, including a banjo, viola, saxophone, oboe, piano, accordion and trumpet.
“I try to imagine musical instruments in ways that almost abstract them,” said Wise, the owner of 464 Gallery in Buffalo and president of the Emerging Leaders in the Arts. “It’s this artistic confluence ... of visual and sound.”
The exhibit runs through July 12. There will be an artist’s talk at 12:15 p.m. today and an ELAB ArtLab critique from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday.IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Exceptional Steel" by Paul Klonowski and "Synesthesia" by Marcus L. Wise • WHEN: The exhibit runs through July 12. Hours are noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays. There will be an artist's talk at 12:15 p.m. today and ELAB ArtLab, a critique, from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday. • WHERE: Carnegie Art Center, 240 Goundry St., North Tonawanda.