Building a better Albright Knox

Public meetings promote understanding of what people want from renowned art gallery


The Albright Knox is regarded globally as “the art world’s best kept secret,” according to director Janne Sirén. With more than 500 masterpieces and a collection exceeding 6,700 works, the Buffalo museum has one of the top collections of modern and contemporary art in the world.

But Sirén acknowledges the Albright Knox has its problems.

“Of our masterpieces, we can’t display half of them,” Sirén said. “And if we were to put 200 on display, we couldn’t have temporary exhibitions on display at the same time.”

The gallery, located at 1285 Elmwood Ave, in North Buffalo, only has enough room to display 2-3 percent of its collection – about 200 of the more than 6,700 works – and is in desperate need of an expansion.

Sirén said the gallery needs to grow its square footage, add a loading dock, fix its existing campus, construct a better visitor entry and have the museum’s architecture inspire visitors and enable the Albright Knox to shine “as a beacon of excellence … of works that [are] world renowned.”

These problems are just a few currently plaguing the Albright Knox Art Gallery – problems the gallery wants the community’s suggestions to help solve.

“Major museums in the world would readily change their collections with ours any day,” Sirén said.

The Albright Knox has a “unique responsibility to a global cultural treasure that is located in Buffalo,” and plans on displaying more of that treasure in the future, according to Sirén.

Before the gallery finalizes plans for an expansion, gallery officials want to know what its members and the community would like to see from an expanded Albright Knox. Throughout November and Janurary, the gallery held four public meetings where community members could participate in surveys and make suggestions about what they want to see from the museum.

“The reason we today talk about [the gallery’s] campus development is because we have a great responsibility to our community, and to the [Albright Knox’s] incredible collection,” Sirén said during his presentation at one of the meetings.

The first of the four meetings took place at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo on Nov. 5 and the last meeting was set for Dec. 1 at West Middle School in West Seneca. The third meeting was originally scheduled for Nov. 18, but was canceled due to bad weather and moved to Jan. 12, 2015.

Each meeting began with a presentation by Sirén, detailing the gallery’s mission and history. Attendees then had the opportunity to complete surveys, talk to Albright Knox employees and choose what aspects of the museum they value on a series of whiteboards.

Attendees were given two stickers for each board and had to place stickers on what options they preferred. One board had community members choose what they wanted the museum to have more of, ranging from concerts and special events to more temporary exhibitions.

“[The meetings] are going really, really well,” said Maria Morreale, the director of communications for the Albright Knox. “We are getting a lot of interesting ideas – things that we hadn’t thought of – and this is what this is all about. We know what we need from an operations perspective for tomorrow’s Albright Knox, but we want to see, what does the public want from us? … We’re getting a lot of good insight into that.”

The Albright Knox’s last expansion opened in 1962 and came with its own set of problems. Its tight corridors were built for members, not the large number of visitors that pass through the museum every day. Sirén said the museum experiences the most “art emergency incidents” of people brushing or bumping into art on display of any museum, or gallery, in the same category.

Among community members and faculty one wish is clear: They want to see more art.

“What I’m excited about with the expansion is that the Albright Knox has a very large collection and this will give it more room to display the work that’s on display now,” said Natalie Fleming, a visual studies resource curator in the visual studies program at UB. “And, perhaps, give it more room to expand its collections to be updating and keeping with what’s going on with the contemporary art market right now.”

Fleming loves the current building and would like to see the Albright Knox expand its current campus to keep its collection in one place. She also teaches modern and contemporary art at the Rochester Institute of Technology and brings her class to the Albright Knox each year.

“We always see something that we have learned about in class,” Fleming said. “Often times, especially for my early modernism class, we see the whole range of the artists we’re interested in. One time you could go and the Pollock you want to see is there and the next time you could go and it won’t be displayed for something else that’s also important in the history of art. It will be great to see the expansion go through so more work can be displayed for students of those periods.”

UB freshman fine arts major Katrina Simonsen agrees with Fleming and would like to see more art displayed at the museum, but she would prefer to see the expansion move toward South Campus.

“There’s a lot of cafes and cartoon shops, and I think a lot of people would appreciate having a museum close to them,” Simonsen said.

The Albright Knox will publish the results of their public meetings this spring. The gallery will continue to work toward providing the community with the best art experience possible not just for today, but for tomorrow.