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Sabres presentation helped show off the best of Buffalo

Wednesday was a "Buffalo at its Best" day.

It had been snowing all day, but a group of us, including my two college-age sons and a group of their friends, were committed to visiting the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Hockey fever was in the air, as well as at the gallery, with Buffalo playing host to the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. A year ago, the gallery began planning to take advantage of this opportunity to build new audiences, bring back old friends and provide the thousands of expected out-of-town visitors with something you don't usually associate with a hockey tournament -- a visit to a museum.

Working with the Buffalo Sabres, the gallery planned and organized the exhibition "Forty: The Sabres in the NHL." The gallery saw this as a way to recognize the significant contribution of the Knox family to the city, and the museum, by celebrating 40 years of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team.

The generosity of the Knox family -- its vision and philanthropy -- is one of the reasons the gallery can proudly house one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. But the Knox family was also instrumental in bringing the Sabres to Buffalo 40 years ago.

Given the central role of sports in our community, the director and staff were eager to present an exhibition exploring the intensity, joy and pain brought forth in photographs of the game of hockey, and to present the Stanley Cup. They were also eager to have visitors continue their visual journey by exploring special sports-themed installations, debuting three newly acquired video works by artist Paul Pfieffer, and installing once again the ever-popular hockey-inspired photographs by artist David Levinthal.

Some national bloggers, prompted by Buffalo News arts critic Colin Dabkowski, have criticized the gallery for presenting the Sabres show, arguing that it does not meet the high standards of the museum. I could not disagree more. The Albright-Knox is a treasured resource of modern and contemporary art, and is a reflection of the many ways in which culture is expressed.

The gallery is an inspired place for a wide range of community gatherings. It continually hosts forums, performances and lectures. Our civic organizations, including the Sabres, are part of that cultural fabric.

I was thrilled to watch my sons and their friends absorb the museum. We started with the Sabres show, of course. But then they began looking around, checking out the abstract expressionist paintings of Pollock, Rothko, Gorky and Motherwell, and the Beyond/In Western New York show. The kids were soon planning their own video projects.

The response has been fantastic. Thousands have visited, and many have become new members of the gallery. We know these new members will return to see more art. This is music to the ears of any cultural organization!

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Leslie H. Zemsky is board president of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

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