Buffalo AKG Art Museum Kicks Off Opening Season
Buffalo AKG Art Museum
13 June 2023

The Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) welcomed its local community, special guests, and supporters from around the world for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the start of the museum’s summer opening season. The event marked the first opportunity for the public to visit the museum’s renewed and vastly expanded campus designed by OMA/Shohei Shigematsu in collaboration with Cooper Robertson. The culmination of a $230 million capital campaign, the largest such campaign for a cultural institution in the history of Western New York, and three-and-half years of construction, the new Buffalo AKG comprises more than 50,000 square feet of prime exhibition space, five state-of-the-art studio classrooms, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Town Square, and more than half an acre of new public green space situated above an underground parking garage. Designed with substantial input from communities throughout Western New York and the museum’s leadership, the renewed and expanded campus is ensconced within the city’s beloved Frederick Law Olmsted–designed Delaware Park. With the addition of three new points of entry positioned throughout the campus, the museum’s architectural presence now reflects and advances its mission to radically increase the accessibility of its facilities and engage all members of its community with an inclusive, interactive, and porous campus.

“After delivering half a million dollars in federal funding to the Albright-Knox Gallery, one of Buffalo’s greatest treasures, I am proud to see the renovation and expansion of a beloved Buffalo cultural staple come to fruition,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. “I’m excited to see the continued success of this world-class cultural institution for Western New York to continue to benefit from its presence in the community.”

The New Buffalo AKG Campus, Inaugural Exhibitions & New Artist Commissions

Driven to expand its accessibility and engagement with its local and global communities, in November 2019, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (as it was known since its previous expansion in 1962) broke ground on the most significant campus expansion and development project in the museum’s 161-year history. Now, on June 12, 2023, the museum reopens as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum.

On the north side of the campus is the Gundlach Building—a work of signature architecture designed by OMA/Shohei Shigematsu in collaboration with Cooper Robertson, which adds more than 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. Featuring a translucent glass curtain wall, the Gundlach Building furthers the museum’s mission of accessibility and initiates a dialogue with the surrounding community, inverting the traditional model of the art museum as an opaque facility and creating tremendous porosity between interior and exterior.

Galleries are located on all three floors of the Gundlach Building. Ranging from the intimate Ronnen Glass Box Theater on the ground floor, to the enclosed Sculpture Terrace on the second, to the expansive 7,530-square-foot gallery on the third, the Gundlach Building offers artists and curators a broad range of highly flexible exhibition spaces to present contemporary and modern art of all scales and media. Visitors can enter the Gundlach Building both from the ground level and from the subsurface parking garage. The staircase from the parking garage to the ground level will be adorned with Others Will Know, an innovative site-specific artwork by Swedish artist Miriam Bäckström. The immersive woven tapestry was designed using 3-D mapping and virtual reality technologies to create the illusion of depth, transparency, and multi-dimensionality. The inaugural exhibition on the first floor of the Gundlach Building is Clyfford Still: A Legacy for Buffalo — a presentation of the museum’s entire collection of thirty-three works by Clyfford Still, alongside an installation of works by artists influenced by or in dialogue with Still’s work, including Joe Bradley, Georg Baselitz, Richard Diebenkorn, and Ida Ekblad. To inaugurate the new building’s Glass Box Theater, the museum will present the immersive audio-visual installation Lap-See Lam: Dreamers’ Quay, marking the artist’s first North American museum exhibition.

The Gundlach Building is physically connected to the Wilmers and Knox Buildings through the John J. Albright Bridge. The Albright Bridge takes visitors from the second floor of the Gundlach Building to the main floor of the Wilmers Building through a unique, circuitous path that was designed to protect a grove of historic oak trees, ensure a slope compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and facilitate the transport of artworks from one end of the campus to the other.

A masterpiece of neoclassical architecture, the creation of the Buffalo AKG involved extensive updates and improvements to the Wilmers Building, including the installation of an entirely new roof, a thorough cleaning of its marble façade, the replacement of cracked marble with red oak flooring, and the recreation of the historic staircase that originally adorned the building’s west façade. Presented in the Wilmers Building’s Hemicycle Gallery is the special exhibition Through a Modernist Lens: Buffalo and the Photo-Secession, which explores the Buffalo AKG’s significant historic photography collection, which originated in 1910—the landmark year when the museum hosted the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, the first show organized by an American museum that aimed to elevate photography’s stature from a purely scientific or documentary pursuit to a visual form of artistic expression.

Substantial improvements were also made to the museum’s existing Seymour H. Knox Building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1962. The building’s original open-air and largely inaccessible interior courtyard has been covered with a site-specific artwork, Common Sky, by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces. The sculpture is a canopy of glass and mirrors that transforms the space into the 6,000-square-foot Ralph Wilson Town Square—the centerpiece of the museum’s community engagement and outreach activities. Free of admission charges year-round, the Knox Building features the 2,000-square-foot M&T Bank Gallery, five state-of-the-art studio classrooms, the 350-seat Stanford and Judith Lipsey Auditorium, and a new restaurant, Cornelia, adorned with a new site-specific commission by artist Firelei Báez, a thirty-foot-long glass mosaic, Chorus of the Deep (something ephemeral and beautifully whole, when seen from the edge of one’s vision, too full when taken head on), 2023.

A New Visitor Experience

As the cornerstone of the museum’s robust public programming, much of the Knox Building is programmed by the museum’s new Department of Learning & Creativity. Under the stewardship of the museum’s inaugural Delaware North Director of Learning & Creativity Charlie Garling, the museum has dramatically expanded its suite of programs designed to engage the community and visitors of all levels of ability. A central component of these efforts is Creative Commons, a new multigenerational learning and play space that illuminates art and creativity in accessible and interactive ways. Creative Commons will position learning through play at the heart of the Buffalo AKG’s physical campus and extend engaging and interactive experiences to all corners of the museum’s galleries. The result of the first ever philanthropic partnership between the LEGO Foundation and a fine art museum, Creative Commons is founded on LEGO’s belief that play is a joyful, meaningful, iterative, actively engaging, and socially interactive experience. The goal of the space is to provide visitors with hands-on playful learning experiences and opportunities to express their identity, meaningfully connect with others, form connections with art in the Buffalo AKG’s collection, and be creative.

For nearly five decades, the Buffalo AKG has presented a robust and beloved suite of programs for visitors with disabilities. As the museum prepares for its summer opening season, the Learning & Creativity Department has broadened its Access Programs and created a series of offerings designed for individuals of all levels of ability, veterans, and members of under-resourced communities. Access and Studio Programs will be presented in the Knox Building’s five new classroom studios, each of which has a specific programmatic purpose, including a family room for young children and their families and caregivers; a community access room; a digital media studio; a ceramics studio; and a painting and drawing studio.