Lots of folks flock to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on the first Friday of every month. That’s because admission to part of the museum and selected events are free from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Albright-Knox Gallery is a Buffalo landmark that’s located at 1285 Elmwood Ave., at the edge of Delaware Park, a short walk from Canterbury Woods Gates Circle. Upcoming First Friday events include jazz performances and drink specials in the AK Café, a studio art class, docent-led tours and drop-in art activities for artists of all ages.
The gallery dates back to 1862, when the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy was founded.
Former President Millard Fillmore was among the incorporators of the organization. The Academy acquired its first work of art in 1863: a painting by Albert Bierstadt. The founders wanted to have a permanent gallery immediately but had to be satisfied with several temporary locations in its first three decades. Buffalo entrepreneur and philanthropist John J. Albright remedied that situation.
A mining engineer by education, Albright made a name for himself as the owner of an asphalt business in Washington, D.C. The company’s ventures included the paving of many Buffalo streets and work for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. Albright and his family moved to Buffalo in 1883 to oversee an expansion of the coal company.
Well-to-do by the age of 40, Albright decided to retire in 1888 but missed working and became intrigued with the efforts of the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company and the Ontario Power Company to harness the power of the falls to generate power and became involved in that effort. His business interests also included the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company, the Buffalo Bolt Company, and the Fidelity Trust and Guaranty Company of Buffalo.
Albright also was interested in the arts, education and growth of the city. He worked closely with Frederic Law Olmsted during the development of the parks and parkway system, and he helped found the Nichols School. He served as president of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy’s board of directors from 1895 to 1897.
In 1900, Albright contributed funds to the Fine Arts Academy for construction of a building that would serve as its permanent home. He donated $350,000—an amount equivalent to more than $10 million today.
Designed by prominent architect Edward B. Green, the shining, white marble building was intended to be the Fine Arts Pavilion for the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, but construction wasn’t completed in time. It was 1905 before the building was finished. The gallery was designed to resemble a Greek temple, and Green’s design included 102 columns—more than any other American building except the U.S. Capitol. It opened May 31, 1905.
Another major benefactor was Seymour H. Knox Jr. Knox directed several corporations including Marine Midland Bank, the F.W. Woolworth Company, New York Central Railroad and the American Steamship Company, but he also had a passion for art. He, too, served as president of the Fine Arts Academy board, and spearheaded the growth of the museum’s collection from 1935 through the early 1970s. His gifts spanned a range of artists and styles beginning with the early Masters, but he was especially interested in the Modernism movement and artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell and Andy Warhol. Knox’s contributions enabled the museum to establish in 1939 the Room of Contemporary Art, an exhibition space that displayed some of the most radical art of the time. He was the subject of a 1985 Warhol portrait.
Knox chaired the New York Council of the Arts in 1960 and was awarded the State University of New York at Buffalo Chancellor’s medal, which honored him for exemplifying “a great citizen of Buffalo.” Late in his life, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Arts, which honors artists and patrons of the arts.
Contributions from Knox and other donors allowed the gallery to expand with a new addition in 1962. It was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery at that time.
Clifton Hall, a third building on the museum’s campus was built in 1920 as the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. In 1929, it became the Albright Art School. In subsequent years, it was transferred to the State University of New York at Buffalo but reverted to the Albright-Knox in 1988. Today, it houses the F. Paul Norton and Frederic P. Norton Family Prints and Drawings Study Center, the AK Innovation Lab, the Public Art Initiative and staff offices.
Today, the museum’s permanent collection includes more than 6,000 artworks. Notable pieces include works by Vincent Van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Monet, Henri Rousseau, Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol. The gallery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Further gifts from the Knox family enabled the museum to acquire nearly 700 works of art, including works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop art and Op art. Other benefactors included Frederic P. Norton, who contributed 587 works on paper; Natalie and Irving Forman, who gifted 96 paintings, sculpture and works on paper as well as their personal archive; and the artist Marisol, who bequeathed her entire estate to the Albright-Knox. The bequest included more than 100 sculptures, works on paper, photographs and slides and a small group of works by other artists she had collected. The museum was the first to formally acquire Marisol’s work with the purchase of two sculptures in the 1960s.
As the collection has grown, so has the need for more space to house and display it. The museum has been considering a possible expansion since 2001 and now is considering a $125 million expansion that would double its space.
With its fascinating history, astounding collection and great public outreach, it’s no wonder that Buffalonians love visiting the Albright-Knox. And it’s no wonder either that hundreds of retirees have eagerly applied to live at Canterbury Woods Gates Circle—Western New York’s newest and most innovative continuing care retirement community, which is destined to become a landmark as well. A main attraction is the location adjacent to the vibrant Elmwood Village neighborhood and proximity to cultural institutions like the Albright-Knox Gallery and all of the entertainment, sports, shopping and dining choices of Downtown Buffalo.
The inaugural residents of Canterbury Woods Gates Circle have moved in, but there are still residences available. To learn more, please call 716-929-5817 or find more information here.