The Albright-Knox is more than a gallery. It is two sides to the same coin.
Two sides to the same Buffalo nickel, if we may use artistic license.
One the one hand is the Albright side – marble and classical, designed by E.B. Green. On the other is the 1962 Knox side, designed by Buffalo-born modernist Gordon Bunshaft.
When it was opened in 1905, the Albright Art Gallery boasted more columns – 120 – than any building in America besides the U.S. Capitol. Where on our 100 Things tour did we encounter this kind of ambition? At Our Lady of Victory Basilica. The basilica, when completed in 1925, had the biggest dome besides the U.S. Capitol. Folks here think big.
In contrast to this grandeur, the Knox side seems to bow to its predecessor. Low and modest, with its dark glass, it could be the Albright building’s shadow.
Inside the gallery all is one. It is all serenity – all bright, white stillness.
With its skylights and open courts, the gallery was designed to shine even on the darkest days of a Buffalo winter. And though even libraries are loud these days, this is a rare place where silence still reigns.
Walking in, you feel a kind of magic. There is a thrill to getting this close to art.
Viewing “Monet and the Impressionist Revolution, 1860-1910,” on display until May 8, two of us from The News stood entranced. Andrew Mayer, the staffer who showed us around, understood.
“These are the real paintings,” he said. “People come in and think, oh, this isn’t a real Monet. But it is.”
Certain works of art can be appreciated only in person.
One such masterpiece is “Wall Drawing #1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG).” It’s not exactly a catchy title. And honest, I had sneered reading about it in The Buffalo News. Hearing that it involved dozens of people scribbling in pencil on walls, all I could picture was graffiti.
When I finally saw it in person, though, I stared. It’s located on the staircase where the gallery’s Albright and Knox sides meet. Sky-high, all around you, are varying shades of silvery gray. It’s ingenious. I will feel bad when, one day, it leaves us. (What will they do, take a Pink Pearl to it? You’ve got to wonder.)
Roaming the gallery, I was delighted to greet old friends.
Emerging from the gift shop, where I had been ogling hip art supplies, I bumped into George Bellows’ “Elinor, Jean and Anna.” I remembered my dad pointing the contrast between the little girl and the old women on either side of her. Nearby was Picasso’s “La Toilette.” In the bright silence, I could hear my 6-year-old self. “Daddy, why doesn’t she get dressed before she does her hair? Why is it called ‘Toilet’?”
Most Buffalonians can name familiar gallery works, art that we loved or – because the Albright-Knox is known for pushing the envelope – made us laugh. The Andy Warhol soup cans, the tiny Renoir, they’re part of our shared experience.
There is a problematic side to this closeness. Buffalo boiled over in 2007 when the Albright-Knox “deaccessioned” the ancient sculpture “Artemis and the Stag.” Whose gallery was it, anyway? So bitter was the battle that it made international headlines.
And I admit, I hold a grudge. I stayed away from the gallery for a few years. (OK, except to go to the restaurant. I love that lovely, light-filled restaurant.) My resentment was a big reason I had not seen “Wall Drawing #1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG)” earlier.
Well, the bright side of that dust-up was that it told the world that the Buffalo area, famous for our love for the Bills and the Sabres, have something of the same passion for our gallery. We’re a football town with an art problem. Or an art town with a football problem. Whichever you prefer, there are bound to be fights.
I say Albright, you say Knox.
We’ll meet in the middle, by the scribble drawing.