The Buffalo AKG Museum of Art, formerly the Albright Knox Art Gallery, announced today that its new, three-story, translucent building under construction will open May 25, 2023, along with the museum’s extensively restored 1905 and 1962 buildings.
Today’s announcement marks the end of a capital campaign that has raised $230 million, the largest ever for a cultural foundation in Western New York history. This includes $35 million for the museum’s operational endowment.
“Words cannot describe how excited my team and I are to welcome Western New Yorkers to the Museum of Their Birthplace in May 2023,” Jean Seren, director of the museum, said Monday at the Burchfield Penny Art Center. “Our new campus enables the creation of world-class museum experiences for visitors of all ages, backgrounds and identities.”
The museum closed in November 2019, with work on the expansion beginning in January 2020. In his absence, a temporary Albright-Knox Northland opening on the East Side’s Northland Corridor ran from January 2020 to June 2022.
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Serene said doubling the gallery space with the new building will allow more than 400 works from the collection to be shown during the first 12 months, more than ever before.
“Visitors will be able to see treasures they have known and loved for years – including Lucas Samaras’ reflection room, Jackson Pollock’s ‘Affinity’ and Giacomo Balla’s ‘Dynamite of a Dog on a Leash’,” said Sirene. We’ve had it in recent years, including important works by Simon Lee, Nick Cave, Ragna Bly, Jeffrey Gibson and Stanley Whitney.”
“Clyfford Still: A Total Vision” will be one of the exhibits on the ground floor of all of the Museum’s Abstract Expressionist holdings, second only to the collection of the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.
Siren said he was grateful for his “amazing team” and the support of “thousands of individuals” while naming two contributors for special tribute.
“Jeffrey Gundlach’s unparalleled generosity and vision allowed us to dream big and he was the jet fuel that drove this campaign forward,” said Sirene. “The amazing support from Governor Hochul and the state of New York carried us across the finish line.”
Gundlach’s contribution of $65 million It was the largest private gift in Western New York history. New York State, beginning with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tenure, has awarded $46.6 million.
Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged $20 million on April 25 to complete construction of the project at a time when fundraising has stalled. It happened as construction costs soared from $168 million to $195 million, largely due to the inevitable Covid-19-related supply chain delays and price increases that conspired to push back the project’s completion date by more than six months.
Gundlach and New York State each provided approximately 57% of the construction cost.
“As one of the nation’s oldest public art institutions, the expansion of the Buffalo AKG Museum of Art is a transformative project that will provide a significant boost to Buffalo’s future,” Hochul said in a statement. “This project will add new life and vitality to this historic and great institution, and is a continuation of the ongoing revitalization of Western New York.”
The museum has decided to start using its new name now rather than wait for the museum to reopen, as previously announced. The “AKG” part of the name refers to the museum’s major contributors: John J. Albright, Seymour H. Knox Jr., and Jeffrey E Gundlach.
The infusion of operating endowment funds doubles what has been stored. The money can be used for operations and maintenance, program presentation and curation of exhibitions and a soon-to-expand museum workforce of 150 full-time employees.
Buffalo AKG also has a restricted endowment for art acquisitions of about $80 million, with Siren noting that both endowments are subject to market fluctuations.
The new Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building, designed by Shohei Shigematsu of Office of Metropolitan Architecture, in collaboration with architecture firm Cooper Robertson, will provide an additional 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. Spaces on the three floors will range from the intimate black box gallery on the ground floor to the Sculpture Terrace on the second floor and the 7,530-square-foot comprehensive gallery on the third floor. There will be entrances from the ground floor and a new underground parking garage.
The glass-walled John J. Albright Bridge would connect the Gundlach Building to the 1905 building designed by E.B. Green and now called the Robert and Elizabeth Wilmers Building. The neoclassical building is undergoing several updates, including a new roof, thorough cleaning of the marble façade, red oak floors, and a re-creation of the historic staircase.
The building, designed in 1962 by Gordon Bunshaft and now called the Seymour H. Knox Building, contains site-specific artwork in an area that used to be an indoor-outdoor courtyard. Shared Sky, a glass-and-mirror sculpture by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Beeman of Other Spaces Studio, will be a community gathering space, with doors on one side leading to Delaware Park and the other to Elmwood Street. The Knox Building, with free admission, will contain a 2,000-square-foot gallery, five classroom studios, a 350-seat auditorium, and a new restaurant.
The statue was installed in late summer, allowing the interior work, including the installation of a terrazzo floor and an integrated lighting system, to proceed.
On Saturday, as the siren stood alone under the “common sky,” he said the setting sun lit up the space with “deep yellow and orange sunbeams reflecting off snow and ice and hundreds of panes of glass.”
“It was like standing in a snow globe and a kaleidoscope at the same time,” Serene said. “The artwork is simply amazing – magical – and I can’t wait for everyone in Western New York and visitors from around the world to experience it for themselves.”
Mark Zommer covers conservation, development, waterfront, culture, and more. He is also a former arts editor at The News.