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Grachos plans to leave post at Albright-Knox

Louis Grachos, who has guided Albright-Knox Art Gallery during a lively decade that saw significant change and growth, announced Thursday he will leave at the end of the year to take a position in Austin, Texas.

Grachos, 55, will become executive director at AMOA-Arthouse, formed by the merger of the Arthouse at the Jones Center and the Austin Museum of Art.

"It was a tough call, but it felt like the right time," Grachos told The Buffalo News. "I feel really proud about what we accomplished over the last decade, but the opportunity in Austin is just rich with the kind of work I really enjoy doing. It felt like a unique opportunity that wouldn't come around again."

Grachos said it won't be easy to leave Buffalo.

"I obviously leave with mixed emotions. It's been such a wonderful privilege to steward the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the collection. It's a tough position to walk away from," he said.

Leslie Zemsky, president of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which oversees the gallery, expressed her gratitude to Grachos for his leadership and accomplishments.

"Louis has done incredible work at the gallery. His work here has energized and engaged the entire region of Buffalo Niagara and beyond," she said in a statement.

""On behalf of the entire board of directors, I extend our sincere thanks to Louis for his dedication and commitment to the gallery, and for his leadership in placing this museum at the vanguard of contemporary and modern art."

Zemsky said a committee is being formed to begin a national search for Grachos' successor. Grachos, who began his tenure as director in January 2003, will stay on until he begins his new job in January.

Grachos will be sorely missed, said Ed Cardoni, executive director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

"He has brought a great energy to the whole arts community in terms of openness to collaboration and commitment to contemporary art, including younger artists and local artists," Cardoni said.

Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes gave the gallery director high marks for attracting new audiences to the Albright-Knox.

"With innovations like the Friday night programming, he has helped make the Albright-Knox more accessible to the average Buffalo citizen by making the idea of going to an art museum a fun thing to do, especially for people with young kids and for the college crowd," she said.

Grachos came to the Albright-Knox after leading the New Mexico arts organization SITE Santa Fe for six years. He replaced Douglas G. Schultz.

At the time of Grachos' appointment, Charles Banta, then president of the museum's board, praised his "unbridled enthusiasm for contemporary art, dynamic leadership and deep respect for the permanent collection."

Later that year, Grachos announced a new biennial exhibition scheduled for 2005, "Beyond/In Western New York." The show eventually grew into one of the largest collaborative visual arts events in the region's history.

In 2005, Grachos spearheaded the gallerywide exhibition "Extreme Abstraction," in which the entire gallery was dedicated to contemporary abstract art. Grachos counts it as one of his proudest accomplishments.

Grachos and the gallery's board came under fire from some in 2006 and 2007 for their decision to sell some 200 objects from the collection -- including the prized bronze statue "Artemis and the Stag" -- to raise money to fund the endowment for contemporary work. In the end, the sale bolstered the gallery's fund for new art acquisitions by $67 million.

Early in his tenure, Grachos also launched the gallery's "Remix" program, an attempt to bring new life to the gallery's deep collection within the constraints of its limited space. He also spearheaded the popular "Rockin' at the Knox" fundraiser, intended to draw new segments of the community into the museum, and initiated the free, weekly "Gusto at the Gallery" on Friday nights.

During his directorship, Grachos shepherded several major gifts. Dozens of important artworks came into the collection under Grachos' watch.

"The one thing I'm really proud of as a professional in the field is the way we grew the collection. With our team, we really shaped the collection for the future," Grachos said.

Grachos also said he thought the gallery had become more involved in the community by forging relationships and collaborations with arts and other groups, as well as the schools, to make the museum more accessible.

"I feel really good about leaving the gallery in good hands," Grachos said, "and I think the very positive upswing of Buffalo, and the great collection at the Albright-Knox, will really ensure an outstanding director will come to move the gallery into the next chapter."

email: msommer@buffnews.com

cdabkowski@buffnews.com