Never underestimate the power of a good collector.
Seymour H. Knox Jr., the prophetic benefactor of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, convinced the notoriously grumpy Clyfford Still to sell the gallery a painting, which later led to the artist's major gift of 31 paintings to the gallery in 1959.
At the same time, a young Italian collector, Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, was getting his feet wet in the art market by snapping up the curious luminescent paintings of Still's friend, the lesser-known Mark Rothko. Panza had wanted to purchase works by Still, but the artist was impossible to get through to and was at that time charging far beyond what Panza could afford.
"Many people, when they came to see my collection 50 years ago, started to laugh because they said I was throwing away my money," Panza said.
But that was then.
Now Panza, along with his wife, the Countess Rosa Giovanna Panza di Biumo, have arrived in Buffalo for a major exhibition of their collection titled "The Panza Collection: An Experience of Color and Light." Made up of some 70 paintings from the extensive and famous collection Panza has amassed over 50 years, the exhibition explores how artists have probed the singular elements of color and light to create bold and challenging new work. It begins at 7:30 tonight with a panel discussion with eight of the 16 renowned artists whose work is featured in the show. They will be joined by Albright-Knox senior curator Douglas Dreishpoon, Panza and David Bonetti, art critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and author of the accompanying catalog essay.
Panza's collecting career has spanned a number of phases, beginning with the abstract expressionist works of Franz Kline and Rothko, moving to minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin and later to conceptual works from Sol LeWitt, environmental pieces by Robert Irwin and James Turrell, and finally, the color-based paintings and sculptures of artists like Phil Sims, Max Cole and Anne Appleby.
That latter group takes center stage in this exhibition, which Panza himself meticulously designed, as he has done with several august spaces, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and his own massive estate, the Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza in Varese, Italy.
For Panza, artists working with color or light alone have discovered a new method of introspection, a method that has drawn ire from the public for its deceptively simple monochromatic canvasses and praise from the art world for its bold entry into new artistic territory.
In the past, Panza said, "Color was the second part of the painting. The first part was the composition, the form. The color was just an addition. But with these artists, the color became the main way to express the inner world of the people, because the color speaks directly to our soul."
He praised the clean and faithful neoclassical style of the Albright-Knox main building, built in 1905, as well as the 1962 addition by renowned American architect Gordon Burnshaft, as an ideal venue for this segment of his collection.
"Buffalo," Panza said, "is a beautiful city because of this museum."
WHAT: "The Panza Collection: An Experience of Color and Light"
WHEN: Opens today and runs through Feb. 24
WHERE: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.
INFO: 882-8700 or www.albrightknox.org