The Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Summary of The Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY is actually not a gallery at all, but a very large museum. With the help of its parent organization, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, and the financial resources of its main benefactor, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., the gallery became a leading venue in the U.S. for Modern and Contemporary art, and in the 1950s played a significant role in defining what is Abstract Expressionism.
Background of the Albright-Knox Gallery: the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, John J. Albright and the Albright Art Gallery
The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, founded in 1862, is the parent institution of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and is the sixth oldest public arts organization in the U.S. In 1890 the wealthy Buffalo entrepreneur and industrialist John J. Albright made a generous gift to the Academy in order to establish the Albright Art Gallery. It was originally intended to serve as the Fine Arts Pavilion for the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, but this was prevented by delays in construction. The gallery finally opened its doors to the public in 1905.
Upon completion, the gallery building boasted a total of 102 columns, the second most for any U.S. building, with only a few less than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The marble used for the gallery and its sculpture court came from the same Baltimore quarry that was used to construct the Washington Monument. The gallery was one of the last art museums to be constructed in the Ionic temple style, the best examples today being New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum.
The Rise of Abstract Expressionism
In 1952, the Albright Art Gallery exhibited Expressionism in American Painting, one of the first exhibitions of its kind in an American museum (more on this below).
In 1954 the symposium, The Artist, the Critic, and the Scholar, was held at the Albright Gallery. Attendees included the sculptor David Smith and the critic Clement Greenberg. At the symposium, Smith delivered his now-famous Buffalo Speech (see Quotes below).
Gordon M. Smith becomes Director
One year later, the gallery appointed Gordon M. Smith as its new director. Although the Albright had welcomed various Abstract contemporary works, prior to 1955 the gallery was largely devoted to older European art forms from Impressionism to Cubism. Under Smith's leadership, the Albright shifted its broader collection policy to become almost exclusively devoted to collecting, exhibiting, and permanently housing contemporary art. In this effort, Smith recruited the president of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Seymour H. Knox, Jr.
Seymour H. Knox and the 1962 Additions
Knox had sat on the board of The Albright Art Gallery since 1926 and had been a consistent voice of praise for contemporary Modern art in the U.S. Smith and Knox (1898-1990) formed a partnership that eventually made the gallery a primary location for contemporary art exhibits.
In 1956 Knox made a generous gift of 8 paintings to the gallery - all seminal 20th-century works in their own right - that included Gorky's The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944), Pollock's Convergence (1952), and Rothko's Orange and Yellow (1956). With these new acquisitions, the gallery was well-equipped to stage its most popular exhibition to date: Contemporary Art: Acquisitions 1954-1957 (more on this below).
As early as 1942, there had been discussion among various Buffalo philanthropists and businessmen about extending the gallery space, but it wasn't until the arrival of Knox that any plan was put into effect. Starting in 1957, with the financial contributions of Knox and his family, construction began on a new south wing for the gallery, made from marble and glass. On January 19, 1962, the new space was dedicated by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the gallery was officially renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Knox himself donated over 160 paintings to be showcased in the gallery's new wing.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is the institution chiefly responsible for turning the city of Buffalo into an unlikely destination for avant-garde cultural events and art. In the 1960s, Gordon Smith and Seymour Knox revitalized the gallery, turning it into a significant center for contemporary art, beginning with Abstract Expressionism. They also sponsored larger community events, such as the renowned Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today, which encompassed every imaginable artistic medium, including dance, music, film, literature and the visual arts.