The Buffalo AKG Art Museum, previously known as 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 renovated 1905 and 1962 buildings.
Today’s announcement marks the end of a capital campaign that raised $230 million, the largest ever for a cultural institution in the history of Western New York. That includes $35 million for the museum’s operating endowment.
“Words cannot describe how excited my team and I are to welcome Western New Yorkers back to their hometown museum in May 2023,” Janne Siren, the museum’s director, said Monday at Burchfield Penney Art Center. “Our new campus enables us to create 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 its absence, the temporary Albright-Knox Northland was opened in the East Side’s Northland Corridor from January 2020 to June 2022.
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The doubling of exhibition space with the new building will allow more than 400 works from the collection to be displayed during the first 12 months, more than ever seen before, Siren said.
“Visitors will be able to see the treasures they have known and loved for years – including Lucas Samaras’ ‘Mirrored Room,’ Jackson Pollock’s ‘Convergence’ and Giacomo Balla’s ‘Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,'” Siren said, “as well as many new artworks we have acquired in recent years, including significant works by Simone Leigh, Nick Cave, Ragna Bley, Jeffrey Gibson and Stanley Whitney.”
“Clyfford Still: A Total Vision,” featuring all of the museum’s 33 holdings of the Abstract Expressionist, second only to the Clyfford Still Museum’s collection in Denver, will be one of the exhibits on the ground floor.
Siren said he was grateful to his “incredible staff team” and the support of “thousands of individuals” while singling out two contributors for particular praise.
“Jeffery Gundlach’s unprecedented generosity and vision allowed us to dream big and was the jet fuel that rocketed this campaign forward,” Siren said. “The incredible support of Gov. Hochul and New York State carried us across the finish line.”
Gundlach’s $65 million contribution was the largest philanthropic gift in Western New York’s history. The State of New York, beginning with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tenure, gave $46.6 million.
Gov. Kathy Hochul committed $20 million on April 25 toward the completion of the project’s construction at a time when fundraising had stalled. That occurred as construction costs rose from $168 million to $195 million, largely due to unavoidable Covid-19-related supply chain delays and price increases that conspired to push the project’s completion date back by more than six months.
Together, Gundlach and the State of New York provided nearly 57% of the cost of construction.
“As one of the oldest public art institutions in the country, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum expansion 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 decided to start using its new name now rather than wait until the museum reopened, as previously announced. The “AKG” portion of the name stands for the museum’s major contributors: John J. Albright, Seymour H. Knox Jr. and Jeffrey E. Gundlach.
The infusion of operating endowment funds doubles what had been stowed away. The funds can be used for operations and maintenance, presenting programs and organizing exhibitions and the museum’s soon-to-be expanded workforce of 150 full-time staff.
Buffalo AKG also has an endowment restricted 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 the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in collaboration with the architecture firm Cooper Robertson, will bring an additional 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. The spaces on the three floors will range from an intimate black box gallery on the ground floor to the Sculpture Terrace on the second and the sweeping 7,530-square-foot gallery on the third. There will be entryways from the ground level and new underground parking garage.
The glass-walled John J. Albright Bridge will connect the Gundlach Building to the 1905 building designed by EB Green and now named the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. The neoclassical building is undergoing numerous updates, including a new roof, a thorough cleaning of the marble facade, red oak flooring and re-creation of the historic staircase.
The 1962 building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft and now named the Seymour H. Knox Building, has a site-specific artwork overhead in an area that had been an open-air interior courtyard. “Common Sky,” a sculpture of glass and mirrors by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces, will be a community gathering space, with doors on one side leading to Delaware Park and the other to Elmwood Avenue. The Knox Building, with free admission, will also contain a 2,000-square-foot gallery, five classroom studios, a 350-seat auditorium and a new restaurant.
The sculpture was installed late in the summer, allowing the interior work, including the installation of a terrazzo floor and an integrated lighting system to move forward.
On Saturday, as Siren stood alone under “Common Sky,” he said the setting sun illuminated the space with “rays of yellow and deep orange sunlight that reflected off of the snow, ice and hundreds of glass panels.
“It was like standing in a snow globe and a kaleidoscope at the same time,” Siren said. “The artwork is simply stunning – magical – and I cannot wait for everyone in Western New York and visitors from around the world to experience it for themselves.”
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News.