Starting Saturday, visitors to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery can sit on the front portico of the Greek Revival building’s reopened second front entrance and enjoy refreshments from the AK Cafe.
Such a respite may be needed after viewing more than 70 of the museum’s “greatest hits” compiled for a national exhibition that returns the same day between tour stops.
Jackson Pollock’s “Convergence.” Giacomo Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash.” Helen Frankenthaler’s “Tutti-Frutti,” Willem de Kooning’s “Gotham News,” Andy Warhol’s “100 Cans,” Lee Krassner’s “Milkweed.”
They are just a small number of the paintings found in “Sincerely Yours: Treasures of the Queen City,” which celebrates the museum’s internationally recognized collection of modern and contemporary art.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to bring the exhibition back to Buffalo so we could see the show everybody is talking about now,” said Maria Scully-Morreale, the gallery’s marketing director. “They’re also out for a long time, and we wanted to bring them back for a little while so people could reconnect with old friends and discover some things that are new.”
The exhibition ran at the Denver Art Museum from March 2 to June 8, under a different title: “Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.”
The exhibit will stay at the Albright-Knox for summer before going on national tour in mid-September.
“ ‘Modern Masters’ showcases one of the best collections of modern art in the country,” said Christoph Heinrich, the Denver Art Museum’s director. “Not only are most of the iconic artists of the time represented, but the works themselves are masterpieces from each artist.”
That was the intention, said Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon, who organized the show with Curator Cathleen Chaffee.
“We wanted the show to be as close to a greatest hits and iconic hits collection as one could get. So, if you were to come to the show having never been here before, what you would see would signify and represent what is the best of what the Albright-Knox represents, across multiple periods,” Dreishpoon said.
It’s no accident that works of abstract expressionism are in the first room visitors see.
“They’re the very objects that have given the Albright-Knox the reputation it has,” Dreishpoon said.
The exhibition also reflects the role of philanthropy, which allowed the gallery to take possession of so many extraordinary masterworks, Chaffee said. Almost all of the art in the exhibit came into the gallery’s possession that way.
“It really does highlight the generosity of patrons, and the vision of patrons to not only acquire the right work at the right time, but to do so with a philanthropic and public aim,” she said.
Seymour H. Knox Jr., an heir to the Woolworth fortune who purchased more than 600 pieces of art made in the 1950s and 1960s, was buying artwork along with Gordon Smith, the gallery’s director with the museum in mind – many with the paint barely dry, Dreishpoon noted.
“Those gifts were directly made to the very organization that he stood behind, and eventually bore his name,” Dreishpoon said.
While it can be nerve-wracking to have incalculably important works of art in transit, the trucks they travel in are climate controlled, there are extraordinary security precautions and the trips are direct to their destination, the curators said.
“You are weighing the public interest against the strain it might put on the collection on the road, or the anxiety it might cause us,” Chaffee said.
The exhibition has proven to be a blessing in disguise, said Gerald Mead, a local art collector, writer and SUNY Buffalo State faculty member present for the gallery’s announcement.
“Seeing the exhibition is like walking into the art history textbook you have known and loved for years and years. We see the finest of the entire collection as we would want to present ourselves to other cities and to the world,” Mead said.
“But while these things are gone, the second tier – which really isn’t a second tier by any stretch of the imagination – have equally spectacular works that because of restraints of exhibition space often don’t come out.”
In the portico, aluminum chairs were tucked into eight circular tables, red umbrellas overhead offering protection from the sun.
“It’s a great view, isn’t it?,” Scully-Morreale said of the seating area in the center of the 1905 marble and patined landmark, designed by E.B. Green as a monument to the golden age of art and architecture of ancient Greece.
“There will be light refreshments people can buy if they want to, and they can just sit and chill on a sunny Buffalo afternoon. We’ve done parties up here, and special events and fundraisers, but we thought it would be really fun to open it up for everybody,” she said.
The museum is offering free entrance from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, with live music and food trucks on hand.
The exhibition will be in Buffalo until Sept. 14, before moving on to the San Diego Museum of Art, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the Milwaukee Art Museum.