Mu­seum to host off-site events at North­land Av­enue site

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

The mu­seum an­nounced the ex­tended clo­sure on Thurs­day, along with news that it will host off-site pro­gram­ming in a 15,000-square-foot space on North­land Av­enue be­gin­ning early next year.

“We have con­ducted ex­ten­sive research on the costs and ben­e­fits of keep­ing por­tions of the mu­seum cam­pus open dur­ing con­struc­tion,” Al­bright-Knox Direc­tor Janne Sirén said dur­ing Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment in the Al­bright-Knox au­di­to­rium. “Given that the mu­seum will be an active con­struc­tion site, op­er­a­tions here at the Elm­wood Av­enue cam­pus will be­gin to wind down as we ap­proach ground­break­ing to­ward the end of this year.”

Con­struc­tion is ex­pected to be­gin in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Al­brightKnox Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor Maria Mor­reale. While much of the gallery’s staff will con­tinue to pro­duce ex­hi­bi­tions and events in the com­mu­nity and plan for the mu­seum’s re­open­ing, Mor­reale said about 10 full-time staff po­si­tions and sev­eral part-time po­si­tions would be af­fected by the con­struc­tion pe­riod.

The new space on the East Side, while not ap­pro­pri­ate for hous­ing the gallery’s fa­mous paint­ings and sculp­tures, will serve as a pro­ject space for in­stal­la­tions and ex­hi­bi­tions that are not de­pen­dent on mu­seum-level cli­mate control.

“We’re re­ally ex­cited to be a part of this neigh­bor­hood,” said Al­bright-Knox board pres­i­dent Alice Ja­cobs. “It’s a crit­i­cal ef­fort in the eco­nomic re­nais­sance of Buf­falo, the de­vel­op­ment of this North­land cor­ri­dor, and it re­ally speaks to our strate­gic plan of want­ing to en­gage other areas of the com­mu­nity.”

There are no cur­rent plans to tour the mas­ter­works from the gallery’s col­lec­tion as it did in 2014, curator Cath­leen Chaf­fee said. In­stead, mu­seum staff will use the con­struc­tion pe­riod to per­form con­ser­va­tion, fram­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy of those pieces so they’re ready for their rein­tro­duc­tion in 2021.

The gallery’s part­ner­ship with the City of Buf­falo and Erie County on pub­lic art, Ja­cobs said, will ex­pand dur­ing the con­struc­tion process, with specifics to be an­nounced later this spring. The gallery is also launch­ing an art truck in spring 2020, which, ac­cord­ing to a re­lease from the gallery, will “drive cre­ativ­ity through­out Western New York” with an ar­ray of ac­tiv­i­ties, classes and projects.

The mon­u­men­tal new art­work that will bub­ble up from Gor­don Bun­shaft’s 1962 ad­di­tion, called “Com­mon Sky,” fea­tures a geo­met­ric net­work of clear and mir­rored glass that de­scends into a fun­nel con­nected to the ground. In that way, the sculp­ture will al­low snow and sky to pen­e­trate the space — at least vis­ually – giv­ing vis­i­tors a sense of con­nec­tion to the out­side en­vi­ron­ment while be­ing in­su­lated from its chill.

The shape of the piece was in­spired, Elias­son said, by the way snow piles up into drifts on a windy day.

“I re­ally wanted to give the qual­ity of light in the room a kind of spec­tac­u­lar qual­ity,” Elias­son said, prompt­ing a round of ap­plause from the crowd as he dis­played a de­tailed ren­der­ing of the planned space. “As you walk through the space, you will see your­self in a small re­flec­tion in the sky. See­ing your­self in the con­text of the sky sug­gests that there are no lim­its to where we should be imag­in­ing our­selves.”

The gallery’s ex­pan­sion plans have been ger­mi­nat­ing for more than a decade, tak­ing var­i­ous forms as gallery lead­ers and ar­chi­tects con­tended with fundrais­ing, preser­va­tion and prac­ti­cal chal­lenges. Op­po­si­tion to the gallery’s ini­tial ex­pan­sion plan, which called for rad­i­cally al­ter­ing ar­chi­tect Gor­don Bun­shaft’s sleek 1962 build­ing into a sprawl­ing pub­lic in­door space, pushed the gallery to­ward the cur­rent plan.

That plan calls for a new, semi­trans­par­ent build­ing on the north­east end of the mu­seum’s cam­pus with about 30,000 square feet of new gallery space. The build­ing will con­nect to the gallery’s orig­i­nal 1905 build­ing via a wind­ing “scenic bridge.” And the cur­rent park­ing lot along Elm­wood Av­enue will be buried and re­placed with an open lawn, restoring an im­por­tant part of Fred­er­ick Law Olm­sted’s Del­a­ware Park. The pro­ject also will re­store a reimag­ined ver­sion of the west stairs that ex­isted when the orig­i­nal build­ing opened in 1905.

Sho­hei Shige­matsu, the lead ar­chi­tect for the ex­pan­sion pro­ject, un­veiled sev­eral new ren­der­ings of the planned build­ing and scenic bridge. The new build­ing on the cam­pus’ north side will fea­ture a dou­ble-height gallery at the en­trance and a cross-shaped core of gallery spa­ces sur­rounded by trans­par­ent pub­lic spa­ces, offices and other func­tions along the trans­par­ent out­side cor­ri­dors. New, un­der­ground park­ing will con­nect vis­i­tors di­rectly to gallery en­trances in the new build­ing and the cur­rent 1962 build­ing.

“It re­ally rep­re­sents the rich history of ar­chi­tec­tural ambition of Buf­falo, and I’m of course very hon­ored to be part of it,” Shige­matsu said. “I also wanted to point out the res­o­nance or sim­i­lar­ity in terms of the ar­chi­tec­tural ges­ture be­tween the north build­ing and Ola­fur’s roof, which both have a great ambition to ac­tu­ally wel­come peo­ple and have space for peo­ple to pro­duce and invent and in­ter­act.”

Elias­son and ar­chi­tect Se­bas­tian Behmann’s newly com­mis­sioned cov­er­ing for the gallery’s court­yard, cur­rently empty of art and vis­i­tors, will en­close an in­door plaza that will func­tion as a free com­mu­nity gath­er­ing and event space. Vis­i­tors will be able to enter from the east and west sides of the cam­pus, cre­at­ing a passthrough for park vis­i­tors and a fun­nel into the broader mu­seum.

“We en­vi­sion this new space as a global desti­na­tion and as an epi­cen­ter of cul­tural and so­cial ac­tiv­ity in Western New York,” Janne Sirén, direc­tor of Al­bright-Knox, said on Thurs­day.

Fund­ing for the pro­ject, now pro­jected to cost $160 mil­lion, with $131 mil­lion al­ready in hand, has been driven largely by the Amherst-born phi­lan­thropist Jef­frey Gund­lach, a billionaire bond trader who has com­mit­ted $52.5 mil­lion of his own for­tune to the ex­pan­sion. Upon its com­ple­tion in 2021, the gallery will be re­named the Buf­falo Al­bright-Knox-Gund­lach Art Mu­seum, or Buf­falo AKG for short.

Gund­lach has given Western New York “the courage and the jet fuel” to ac­com­plish the pro­ject, Sirén said.

The plan drew rave re­views from ob­servers in the crowd and pub­lic of­fi­cials in­clud­ing Mayor By­ron W. Brown and Erie County Ex­ec­u­tive Mark Polon­carz, who praised the in­spir­ing words of a young art fan named Isaac, the star of a new promotional video the gallery screened on Thurs­day.

“When I heard the words from Isaac, it just re­minded me why we do th­ese types of projects,” Polon­carz said. “We do them not only for our own en­joy­ment, but we do them so when peo­ple walk in here in the fu­ture, they re­al­ize that this is a com­mu­nity that cares about the rest of the com­mu­nity, and this is a com­mu­nity that says to the rest of the world, not only do we mat­ter in the art world, we mat­ter for every­one.”

Cour­tesy Al­bright-Knox Art Gallery

The Al­bright-Knox ex­pan­sion pro­ject will re­con­sti­tute part of the orig­i­nal west stairs of the gallery and cover the cur­rent park­ing lot in a lawn. Park­ing will be buried un­der­neath.

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