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Last Impressions

It's a difficult task: How do you create a vital showplace for modern and sometimes daunting contemporary art and still attract an audience whose interest may trail off around the time Monet painted his last waterlily?

Ask Louis Grachos. Since becoming director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery four years ago, Grachos has made many bold and sometimes controversial moves. He wants to sharpen the Albright-Knox's competitive edge in the art world and at the same time make the gallery a vibrant place where people gather for fun and frolic. He's gone after both goals with keen intelligence and unabated enthusiasm.

Grachos, 48, grew up in Toronto, often visiting Buffalo on school art trips. Seeing the great Albright-Knox permanent collection was what sparked his early interest in modern art.

Though a confirmed optimist, Grachos knows he can't please everyone. He's delighted to do a viewer-friendly exhibition like "Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse," but zealously defends radical, mind-bending exhibitions like the recent "Extreme Abstraction." His plan, backed by the gallery board of directors, to auction off antiquities and other historical works from the collection was an audacious undertaking that ignited controversy. To some, it looks like he's throwing away a sacred public trust. But for Grachos and others, it's the only way to refocus on the gallery's mission to keep its collection moving forward. His continual reshuffling of the famous masterworks from the collection has caused similar mixed reactions: some like it, some hate it.

But it's all high praise for Gusto at the Gallery, the free Friday night event that brings a broad blend of people to the gallery. Another widely applauded Grachos innovation is the collaborative and greatly expanded "Beyond/In Western New York" biennial.

Grachos sees the museum and its collection as a living, dynamic thing. So expect the bold moves to continue as he challenges old ideas of what an art museum should or can be.

-Richard Huntington

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