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Albright-Knox exhibition recalls gallery's abstract-expressionism tie

The expressive brush strokes of Willem de Kooning and chaotic drips of Jackson Pollock take center stage today as Albright-Knox Art Gallery opens its four-month run of the highly anticipated exhibition "Action/Abstraction."

Seminal works of abstract expressionism from the Albright-Knox collection have been out on the road for most of the past year, collecting accolades in a tour that has been widely hailed, as much for its historical importance as the eye-grabbing quality of the art it contains.

At a preview of the exhibition Thursday, curator Norman Kleeblatt of New York City's Jewish Museum, which organized the show, credited the Albright-Knox with a great deal of its success.

"This is just a great museum, a great building with a great collection," Kleeblatt said, noting that the exhibition differs significantly from its previous incarnations at the Jewish Museum and the St. Louis Art Museum. "What I like to think is that the opportunity to look at abstract expressionism, which is the internationally known strong suit of the Albright-Knox, gets configured [here] in a different way and speaks in a different voice."

The Buffalo leg of the show, its last stop, has been expanded to include additional works from the Albright-Knox collection, as well as an adjoining exhibition that highlights Buffalo's vital contributions to the abstract expressionist movement itself.

The show stretches throughout the gallery's entire original building, beginning with an exhaustive collection of material -- from esoteric essays to television clips of Kokomo Jr., the painting chimpanzee -- that provides some cultural context for the paintings and sculptures in the adjoining spaces. The section also contains writings from the influential art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, whose epic rivalry served as the organizing theme of the exhibition.

But the exhibition, Albright-Knox Senior Curator Douglas Dreishpoon pointed out, isn't just about a rivalry between two long-dead art critics.

"The show is as much about critical perception as it is about creativity itself," he said.

The flagship artworks of "Action/Abstraction" -- Pollock's "Convergence" and de Kooning's "Gotham News," along with seminal paintings by Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Grace Hartigan and others -- are drawn from the Albright-Knox collection. The show also has reached out its hand in an attempt to rescue certain black, gay and female artists whose work was marginalized during abstract expressionism's heyday.

"From the beginning, we knew there were blind spots all over this field," Kleeblatt said. "I think also in the sculpture gallery, you start to redress people who were really the players but who are now on the short shrift of history."

Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos touted the expanded version that appears at the Albright-Knox -- an institution that played a significant role in the development of abstract expressionism itself.

"It was a really amazing time for our community, our museum, our city and the people from Buffalo who connected our museum to the very edge of the international art world at the time," Grachos said. "Our relationship to the movement is beautifully highlighted through the archives, and that's something that all of us in Buffalo can be proud of."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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