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Albright-Knox expansion kicks off with $10M more from Gundlach

Albright-Knox expansion kicks off with $10M more from Gundlach

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The number of artworks displayed to the public will more than double when the expanded and renamed Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum, or Buffalo AKG Art Museum, reopens in 2022.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a collection of nearly 8,000 modern and contemporary artworks but could display only 2% due to lack of space.

But the day more can be shown drew closer Friday as the museum broke ground on a projected $165 million expansion.

"We are taking this all the way home, baby, all the way home," said Jeffrey Gundlach, the Snyder native and billionaire investor in Los Angeles who's covering $62.5 million of the project. "Let's go Buffalo! Bring on the construction team."

At the groundbreaking, Gundlach announced he was giving an additional $10 million on top of the $52.5 million he previously gave. That brings the project's overall total raised to $138.5 million, $26.5 million shy of the AK360 capital campaign's goal.

Gundlach said his contribution also honors John J. Albright, an industrialist and philanthropist whose financial contribution helped build the museum. He said a bridge that will be built on the campus will be named for Albright.

Three buildings will also be named to honor significant Albright-Knox contributors, said Alice Jacobs, the museum's board president.

  • The 1905 building designed by E.B. Green will be named for the late Robert Wilmers, a banker who chaired the AK360 capital campaign, and Elisabeth Wilmers, who serves as a board member.
  • The new building – a semi-transparent, three-story structure on the northeast end of the campus – will be named for Gundlach.
  • The 1962 building designed by Gordon Bunshaft will be named for Seymour H. Knox Jr. and his family. Knox, when he was board president, oversaw one of the greatest periods of growth for the collection. Knox and the Knox Foundation largely funded the Bunshaft building's construction.

"It's a very historic day for the gallery," said Seymour H. Knox IV, a board member. "We have seen a lot of reiterations with various directors over an extended time frame, and it's great to see it finally coming to fruition."

Inside Albright-Knox's auditorium, museum officials, supporters and elected officials thanked Gundlach for his philanthropy and expressed excitement for what the museum's expansion will mean for the city.

Gundlach also praised Knox Jr., joking that his mighty acquisitions made the expansion necessary.

He spoke of the challenges in raising money for the project.

"There were times during the process of coming to this moment when confidence wavered, even recently," Gundlach confided. "There were fears that this groundbreaking might be premature given the level of fundraising relative to the ambitions of the project."

It was why, Gundlach said after the program was over, that he stepped in with his latest eight-figure donation.

Signature building

The new building, the museum's first expansion in 60 years, will serve as the main entrance, add 30,000 square feet to the campus' footprint and include a wraparound promenade.

The building was designed by Shohei Shigematsu, a partner at OMA who's based in New York City.

The new building will be located on what is now a parking lot, and the rest of the lot will be converted into a green plaza, with parking moved underground.

A curvy bridge will connect the new north building with the 1905 building and also be used to transport artwork. The front steps of the original building will be restored decades after their removal.

A covered courtyard will offer passage on the east facade of the Bunshaft building to Delaware Park, Hoyt Lake and Lincoln Parkway under a mirrored, funnel-shaped glass canopy.

The 1962 building, with its glass-walled auditorium, will become home to a new education center.

"When people talk about the great art museums of the world, they will not only talk about the collection of the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum," said County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "They will now talk about the facility as being one of the greatest in the world, and we should be proud of that."

Albright Knox

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown praised the museum for creating a presence on the East Side in January 2020 with the opening of Albright-Knox Northland at 612 Northland Ave. The site will be used for exhibitions and events while the main campus is closed.

There will also be mobile art truck and a continuation of the museum's support of murals and other public art initiatives.

Patrick Kaler, president of Visit Buffalo Niagara, said the tourism bureau can't wait to talk up the coming Buffalo AKG Art Museum.

"We've known that the Albright-Knox is one of the top contemporary art museums in the world," Kaler said. "But we haven't been able to really showcase more of the collection, so I think this gives a truly wonderful opportunity to bring more of it out for the entire world."

Gundlach said the changes "will elevate this jewel of Buffalo's cultural institutions to the global destination status it deserves."

"I suspect that we will go back to the type of visitation levels that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery saw at its opening in 1962, which is about five to six times what we see today," Gundlach said. "So, I think the architecture, the beauty, the interaction with Delaware Park and, of course, the 500-plus undisputed masterpieces will give a further boost in the arm to the Buffalo renaissance."

Gundlach said his regular trips to the Albright-Knox with his mother, Carol Gundlach, fostered his love for art at an early age. Her influence, he said, extended to his involvement with the expansion project.

"She's kind of one of the reasons why this happened," Gundlach said. "When the AK360 project was being kicked around, there was a lot of trepidation, understandably, that it was going to be a failed effort. My mother started sending me articles from The Buffalo News talking about the project, so she was probably hoping maybe I'd be a part of it."

Although it's been a long time since Gundlach made Buffalo his primary home, he said he returns each year for Thanksgiving. He also recently bought a house near the museum.

"I like the Buffalo of today. I didn't much like the Buffalo of 1990, where there was a lot of fear and loathing, a lot of negative sentiment," Gundlach said. "That has largely dissipated, and I think this project is just another chapter in that long wonderful volume being written about Buffalo in the 21st century."

• • •

Here are five features coming to the museum when it reopens in 2022.

1. A glass entrance. A semi-transparent, three-story building on the northeast end of the campus will double exhibition space and serve as the main entrance.

• • •

2. Parking goes green. A green plaza will replace the surface parking lot, with parking moved underground.

• • •

3. Historic feature restored. The 1905 building's front steps that were removed decades ago will be restored.

• • •

4. Connecting to Delaware Park. A covered courtyard will provide passage to and from Delaware Park under a mirrored, funnel-shaped glass canopy.

Albright Knox rendering

• • •

5. Bridging the new with the old. A curvy, scenic bridge will connect the new north building with the 1905 building and help with the transport of artwork.

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