OMA’s expansion of the AKG Art Museum in Buffalo will open in May 2023

The long-awaited OMA-led expansion of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum in Buffalo, New York now has an opening date. On May 25, 2023, the museum, formerly known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, will welcome the public to what will be one of Western New York’s most significant cultural hubs. The transformation is the result of a $230 million capital campaign, the largest in the region’s history. Upon reopening, the museum will better serve its mission, to bring internationally and locally renowned artists to audiences, with a distinctive new building, a suspension bridge connecting to existing gallery spaces, a new courtyard, and renovations to existing exhibition spaces.

Founded in 1862 as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and eventually named for local captain of industry John J. Albright, the museum, prior to OMA’s intervention, comprised two main buildings: The Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building, a 1905 neoclassical building designed from EB Green and the Seymour H. Knox Building, a 1962 Gordon Bunshaft design. Led by Peggy Pierce Elfvin director Janne Sirén, the museum’s desire for an expanded campus was made possible by a six-year fundraising campaign which raised $195 million for construction and $35 for operating endowment funds. This included $65 million from investor and businessman Jeffrey Gundlach, who will be the namesake of the museum’s new main building (and the “G” of its renamed AKG), and $20 million from the state government. The expansion will also continue the museum’s goal of bringing world-class art to the Buffalo public, which, in addition to its main campus, includes the institution’s independent public art department. The outfit has overseen the installation of 40 works in Buffalo and Erie Country since 2013.

The Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building seen from the patio of the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

Governor Kathy Hochul, who recently won an election to continue in her role, said the “expansion is a transformational project that will provide a significant boost to Buffalo’s future.” How A recently reported, other significant investments in Buffalo include a Populous-designed stadium for the Buffalo Bills, currently scheduled to open in 2026.

Alice Jacobs, chair of the museum’s board, said in a press release that “the vision for this project is to create a museum that can serve as a platform for human expression and a cultural resource for everyone in our community.” . To this end, how A previously covered, OMA’s project, in collaboration with executive architect Cooper Robertson, will expand the campus with the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building, a new five-story glass-encased building. OMA outbid four other firms in a design competition for the building and updated an earlier scheme in response to protests from historic preservationists. Throughout, the team was led by OMA partner Shohei Shigematsu, whose cultural portfolio includes the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the reimagined Sotheby’s New York headquarters and an events pavilion for Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Shigematsu’s design for an addition to the New Museum in New York is currently under construction.

In Buffalo, the new Gundlach Building, resembling a trapezoidal prism with its top corners turned inward, will increase the museum’s gallery space by 30,000 square feet. The basement includes an entrance to the building through a basement garage, and features Others will know, an “immersive woven tapestry” by Swedish artist Miriam Bäckström that uses 3D and virtual reality technology “to create the illusion of depth, transparency and three-dimensionality”. The three above-ground floors include a black box theater, bar, and gallery space, including a 7,530-square-foot space on the third floor interrupted only by two structural columns. Visitors can walk through the enclosed Sculpture Terrace on the second floor for a 360-degree view of the campus and nearby Delaware Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

rendering of an interior art museum gallery
The 7,500 square foot gallery on the third floor of the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

Improving the movement of people and artworks within the museum and embodying the continuity of the museum’s public-facing mission, the John J. Albright Bridge will connect the Gundlach Building to the existing neoclassical Wilmers Building. Sloping from the second floor of the first to the main level of the second, OMA’s glass-walled design makes the ADA galleries accessible without having to remove a historic oak grove. The width of the bridge also allows the transport of works of art between the two buildings in an air-conditioned environment. Additional work on the Wilmers Building will include a new roof, a cleanup of its marble facade, and the re-creation of a historic stairway that originally led down its west facade.

laceration of the interior of a suspension bridge
Interior of the John J. Albright Bridge. Courtesy of OMA New York

Speaking about the possibilities offered by the expanded gallery spaces, Cathleen Chaffee, Charles Balbach Chief Curator of the museum, said that “the vastly expanded museum will provide, for the first time in our history, sufficient space to celebrate the artists of our extraordinary modern collection by honoring also new works that speak of contemporary experiences. In addition to expanding the scope of the exhibitions in the main gallery spaces, an installation by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces will transform the courtyard of the Knox Building. Previously open to the elements, Eliasson and Behmann’s Common sky, built in metal, glass and mirror, will enclose the courtyard in a reinvented town square. Speaking of his name, the space will be the focus of the museum’s community engagement activities and the entire building will be free. Upon reopening, the building will house additional classrooms, a new restaurant, retail space, a 350-seat auditorium and over 2,000 square feet of exhibit space.

rendering of a suspension bridge
The John J. Albright Bridge, connecting the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building and the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

For its reopening, the museum’s exhibits will include a presentation of 400 works from the institution’s modern and contemporary art collections, featuring works by Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Visitors will progress chronologically through the show, passing through late 18th and mid 20th century art in the Wilmers Building and encountering late 20th and 21st century art on the second floor of the Gundlach Building. On the largely open-plan third floor, the reopening exhibit will showcase newly acquired art, emphasizing the works of living artists, as the museum has always done. The ground floor of the Gundlach Building will house Clyfford Still: a total visionan exhibition of the museum’s entire collection of the abstract expressionist’s work, which is the second largest collection in the world after the artist’s institution of the same name in Denver.

In addition to its cultural impact, the museum’s expansion is expected to increase the institution’s economic impact to $36-47 million annually to New York’s economy, according to the University at Buffalo Regional Institute. The majority of the museum’s economic benefit will be within Erie County, including, when it reopens, 135 full-time jobs. As Governor Hochul summarized, “This project will add new life and vitality to this historic and great institution, and is a continuation of Western New York’s ongoing revitalization.”

“This historic milestone would not have been possible without the efforts of an incredible staff and the support of thousands who believe in Buffalo’s mission,” Sirén said in a press release. “Jeffrey Gundlach’s unprecedented generosity has been the jet fuel that has propelled this campaign forward, and the incredible support from Governor Hochul and New York State has got us across the finish line. Our new campus allows us to create world-class museum experiences for visitors of all ages, backgrounds and identities. Words cannot describe how excited we are to welcome the world to Buffalo AKG on May 25, 2023, a pivotal moment in the history of our city and region.”

Expect more coverage from A in 2023 when the Buffalo AKG Art Museum opens to the public.

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