Ceremonial shovels were placed in dirt by no fewer than 20 dignitaries, formally launching an ambitious project to expand the Albright-Knox Art Gallery by 30,000 square feet. The Buffalo native who offered tens of millions of his own dollars to fuel further fundraising was back in town to announce he's putting in even more, to pay tribute to the man who got the gallery's original 1905 building erected.
The Buffalo art museum closed earlier this month in preparation for the lengthy expansion project which will continue through 2022. When completed, the newer, larger complex will be known as the Buffalo Albright Knox Gundlach Art Museum.
"Today is a commencement," declared Janne Sirén, Albright-Knox Peggy Elfvin Director. "We are here both to recognize and celebrate the hard work and generosity of thousands of committed individuals, many of whom are in the audience."
The ceremony was held in two parts. First, some of the numerous speakers offered comments indoors. A second round of comments were held outside just before the groundbreaking. Earlier inside the museum's auditorium, the speakers included Jeffrey Gundlach, who as of Friday morning had contributed $52.5 million including match challenges which generated more than $100 million from numerous other sources. He paid tribute to the late John Albright, the benefactor of the 1905 structure, as well as the late Seymour Knox, Jr., who as board president of the museum oversaw its last major expansion in the 1960s.
Gundlach announced he was donating an additional $10 million to link two structures and, in his words, "so that the beautiful serpentine connector between the 1905 building and the 2022 building will be named the Albright Bridge, or the John Albright Bridge, or the John J. Albright Bridge, whatever the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy thinks best."
Gundlach's name will be just one of a few added to the museum's branding.
"Upon our reopening as the Albright Knox Gundlach Art Museum, our campus will have three architecturally significant connected buildings. Two of these historic structures will, for the first time, carry a name," said Alice Jacobs, the current board president of the Albright Knox Art Gallery. "I'm pleased to share today that E.B. Green's neoclassical building, which for many is the iconic image of the museum, will be named the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building."
Additionally, Jacobs announced, the modernist building will be named in honor of the Knox family.
Elected representatives from all levels of government, from federal to city, were also in attendance including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who spoke of how the project will put the Albright Knox Gundlach Art Museum among the world's top art destinations.
"There were a lot of folks who, when this was orignially announced, said 'could this community do it?' And a lot of folks were thinking 'it's Buffalo.' I think we almost remember if you don't think big, you're never going to achieve big," Poloncarz said. "On behalf of the people of Erie County, I want to thank Janne Sirén and his entire staff, as well as the board of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy for thinking big and never saying just because we're in Buffalo, we can't have something that New York City could have, that Chicago could have, that San Francisco could have or, for that matter, something England, Germany or Spain could have."
In the meantime, a new project space known as Albright-Knox Northland will open in Buffalo's East Side this coming January. The museum has also rolled out its new Art Truck to bring hands-on artmaking, classes and workshops throughout the community.
Mayor Byron Brown praised the Albright-Knox staff for bringing art projects - and its pieces - to the city's East Side.
"Art has the power to uplift, to expand and to transform," the mayor said. "Now, with this amazing investment that we're seeing, people in every section of this community, no matter what their income, no matter what their background, will have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful art that is here."