The frequent invocation of artists’ biographies to interpret (and market) their work is another. Still another, oddly specific and just as oddly consistent, is that every six decades the foremost art museum in Buffalo, New York, undergoes a transformative expansion. The Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) occupies a campus in New York State’s second-largest city that now features buildings completed in 1905, 1962 and 2023. The latest, inaugurated last month, was designed by Shohei Shigematsu, a partner at the New York office of architecture firm OMA, in collaboration with New York firm Cooper Robertson. It was shaped by extensive community outreach and several town hall-style feedback and brainstorming sessions with local residents. It is the centrepiece of a $230m capital campaign that began more than a decade ago and also involved major renovations and interventions within the two earlier buildings: E.B. Green’s neoclassical structure, the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building, whose marble colonnade projects a turn-of-the-20th-century brand of civic pride; and Gordon Bunshaft’s mid-century Modern addition, the Seymour H. Knox Building, with its sleek if somewhat austere geometry.
“Part of the reason we chose that site was that the museum was, ironically, surrounded by Delaware Park, so there was a long distance from the main boulevard and the city to get to the museum,” Shigematsu says. “Sometimes it’s good to have a procession, but sometimes it also creates a sense of distance for the public. So now the older buildings are still set in the park, but the new building really faces the street.”
The Gundlach Building, in addition to creating another entrypoint to the museum, features 13 new galleries totaling 27,000 sq. ft, plus an enclosed 6,100 sq. ft sculpture terrace. More prosaically, it includes a loading dock and freight elevator, essential back-of-house elements the museum did not have previously. The galleries are traditional white-walled spaces, laid out in a “plus” sign configuration, with an inaugural programme that includes a bravura display of the museum’s 33 works by Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still (until 19 February 2024) and a selection from the 518 objects acquired during the four years it was closed for construction. In a clever aesthetic callback, the marble used in the thresholds between the new galleries was quarried from the same part of Vermont as the marble used 120 years ago in constructing the Wilmers Building.