Buffalo AKG Art Museum Announces New Details of Inaugural Exhibitions and Special Artist Commissions
Thursday, March 2, 2023
Buffalo AKG has Commissioned Firelei Báez to Create Site-Specific Artwork for the Historic Seymour H. Knox Building to Debut at May 25 Opening
Lap-See Lam: Dreamers’ Quay to Inaugurate New Gundlach Building’s Ronnen Glass Box Theater, Marking Artist’s First North American Museum Exhibition
Newly Expanded Campus will Feature Hundreds of Highlights from the Collection, Special Exhibitions Dedicated to Clyfford Still, Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room, and the Photo-Secession
To download materials and press images related to this announcement, please click here.
The Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) announced new details of its inaugural exhibition programming and site-specific artist commissions, which will debut when the museum opens its expanded and renewed campus to the public on May 25, 2023. Newly announced highlights include a permanent site-specific commission by Dominican-born, New York-based artist Firelei Báez; the North American museum debut of Swedish artist Lap-See Lam, whose immersive audio-visual installation Dreamers’ Quay, 2022, will inaugurate the museum’s Ronnen Glass Box Theater; a special exhibition dedicated to Lucas Samaras’s Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room), 1966, a masterpiece of the 1960s and one of the museum’s most beloved works; as well as a special exhibition dedicated to the Buffalo-based artists of the Photo-Secession and the significant role the museum played in the evolution of photography as a medium for fine art.
As previously announced, the new Buffalo AKG campus will feature additional major site-specific commissions, including Common Sky, by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces, and Others Will Know, by Miriam Bäckström; as well as a special exhibition dedicated to Clyfford Still and a campus-wide presentation of recent acquisitions and collection highlights spanning the museum’s 160-year history of collecting and supporting the work of groundbreaking contemporary artists.
“During the last three years, with the support of hundreds of individuals, we have endeavored to build the best possible museum campus,” said Janne Sirén, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. “On May 25, we will begin firing on all cylinders, and the public will see the myriad ways in which the design of our new museum is inherently tied to our mission to share groundbreaking modern and contemporary art with the world. Our stellar curators have done what they do best: create experiences with great art that engage, provoke, and inspire.”
“As we introduce the Buffalo AKG to our community and the world for the first time, our goal is to celebrate the museum’s renowned collection while also demonstrating our support of the new, the pioneering, and the innovative,” said Cathleen Chaffee, Charles Balbach Chief Curator. “Great art is now built into the very physical fabric of the Buffalo AKG, from Firelei Báez’s moving Chorus of the Deep, to the awe-inspiring Common Sky, by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann, to the dizzying, immersive Others Will Know, by Miriam Bäckström. Our local community will find the great works of modern art they know best alongside never-before-seen recent acquisitions by leading contemporary artists. The opening is truly a celebration of the museum’s collection and the artists who have made it revolutionary.”
Firelei Báez, Chorus of the Deep (something ephemeral and beautifully whole, when seen from the edge of one’s vision, too full when taken head on), 2023
Firelei Báez creates artworks that underscore the notion that no place is neutral and offer opportunities for viewers to critically engage with often reductive established narratives. Báez was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mother and a father of Haitian descent and emigrated to the United States when she was nine. She credits “a certain flexibility and adaptability” as one “benefit of existing in [the] transverse space” of someone whose experiences, identities, languages, and sense of home have been naturally fluid. Her work offers exuberant new possibilities for futures born out of the fraught histories of enslavement, imperialism, and systemic injustice.
Commissioned for the Buffalo AKG’s new restaurant Cornelia, Chorus of the Deep is a thirty-foot-long glass mosaic that appears to be an abstract symphony of color and light when viewed up close; from farther away, however, forms of swimming bodies and sea flora emerge. This physical, dynamic, and variable experience of the artwork is deliberate: Báez makes viewers aware of their own historical and subjective positions relative to the work of art, while also revealing their experience as contingent upon light conditions, scale, and other material constraints.
Chorus of the Deep is based on the Afrofuturist myth Drexciya conceived by the Detroit-based techno duo of the same name (a collaboration between James Stinson and Gerald Donald). Stinson and Donald conceived of an underwater, Afrodiasporic civilization of Drexciyans, a society of water-breathing beings born to pregnant women thrown overboard during the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. This society—as Báez visualizes it in this work and as Drexciya illustrated it in their music—is joyful, radiant, and exuberantly creative. The ocean, which for many descendants of the enslaved trade carries the incomprehensible weight of millions of unmarked graves, is instead rendered in Chorus of the Deep as a utopian seascape.
As the inaugural presentation in the Buffalo AKG’s new Ronnen Glass Box Theater, Lap-See Lam: Dreamers’ Quay welcomes visitors into a 360-degree immersive moving image shadow play. Over five acts, we follow A’Yan, a young girl who enters a mirror in her mother’s Chinese restaurant and moves through a dream world across centuries and between different mediated images from the lives of Chinese immigrants.
Through her large-scale projection-based animations, film, virtual reality, and sculptural work, Lap-See Lam considers how myths, popular culture, and fiction have the potential to define and redefine notions of identity and belonging. At the center of Lam’s universe is the Chinese restaurant as a dream space, frozen in time with interiors rooted in fantasies of the great emperors and the Qing dynasty. Yet it is also a space with its own distinct history; Lam’s family restaurant in her native Sweden was based on Chinese restaurants in the Western world, and Lam is interested in its double nature as both a fantasy and a real place with personal and private stories connected to the Cantonese diaspora today.
Dreamers’ Quay, 2022, is the final act in a trilogy that engages with universal questions defining the immigrant experience. The work considers the history and ambiguous connotations of chinoiserie, Chinese immigration to Sweden, Lam’s own family history, and the ways in which representational imagery is taken up by colonized and diasporic subjects for the purpose of both identification and disidentification.
Lap-See Lam: Dreamers’ Quay at the Buffalo AKG coincides with presentations of Lap-See Lam’s exhibition Tales of the Altersea at Portikus, Frankfurt am Main (March 11 – May 28, 2023) and the Swiss Institute, New York City (May 10 – August 28, 2023).
Clyfford Still: A Legacy for Buffalo
The Buffalo AKG’s collection includes thirty-three works by Clyfford Still—the largest collection of Still’s work outside of the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver—that span critical developments in the artist’s career from 1937 to 1963. When the Buffalo AKG opens on May 25, 2023, all thirty-three of the works will be on view in four of the five galleries on the first floor of the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building.
Still developed a unique relationship with the Buffalo AKG (or the Albright Art Gallery, as it was then known) in the 1950s through interactions with Director Gordon M. Smith and Board President Seymour H. Knox, Jr. Their friendship was sparked in 1957 with the purchase of a monumental painting, PH-49 (1954), 1954, for the museum’s collection. In 1959, Smith invited Still to organize his first large-scale museum survey and granted the artist control over the exhibition’s content, design, and installation. Following the landmark exhibition, an additional work by Still, PH-48 (1957-D-No. 1), 1957, entered the museum’s collection. Convinced that the Buffalo AKG would make a suitable home for a carefully chosen group of paintings, Still subsequently donated thirty-one works to the museum in 1964.
The works that will be on view in four of the five galleries on the first floor of the Gundlach Building include earlier abstract works influenced by surrealism as well as later examples of Still’s mature Abstract Expressionist style. In the adjacent double-height gallery, visitors will find Still’s Legacy and Influence, an installation of collection works by artists influenced by or in dialogue with Still’s work. Artworks on view include Joe Bradley’s Good World, 2017; Georg Baselitz’s Elke-Akt 2, 1976; Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 66, 1973; and Ida Ekblad’s SIDELOCK OF YOUTH, 2020, among others.
Clyfford Still: A Legacy for Buffalo bears witness to Still’s steadfast belief in the contiguity of his creative practice. In Still’s words, “Each painting is an episode in a personal history, an entry in a journal. No painting stops with itself, is complete of itself. It is a continuation of previous paintings and is renewed in successive ones.”
Through a Modernist Lens: Buffalo and the Photo-Secession
The inaugural exhibition in the Hemicycle Gallery of the Wilmers Building will be Through a Modernist Lens: Buffalo and the Photo-Secession. The exhibition explores the Buffalo AKG’s significant historic photography collection, which originated in 1910—a landmark year in both the history of the museum and the history of the photographic medium. In 1910, the museum hosted the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, the first show organized by an American museum that aimed to elevate photography’s stature from a purely scientific or documentary pursuit to a visual form of artistic expression. Organized by the Photo-Secession, led by American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in cooperation with the museum, the exhibition introduced museum audiences to more than 600 photographs by 65 artists. Through purchase or gift, the museum acquired numerous notable works from the exhibition, many of which will be on view when the Buffalo AKG opens, including works by James Craig Annan, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Gertrude Käsebier, Heinrich Kühn, Robert S. Redfield, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Clarence Hudson White, along with illuminating highlights from the museum’s archives.
Looking Back: Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room
One of the most beloved works in the Buffalo AKG’s collection is Lucas Samaras’s Room No. 2, 1966, popularly known as the Mirrored Room. Since the artwork was acquired by the museum in 1966, hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed the mesmerizing and immersive experience it creates. As part of the preparations for the opening of the Buffalo AKG, the Mirrored Room went through extensive conservation in order to ensure that visitors can experience the work well into the future.
The Mirrored Room is the centerpiece of Looking Back: Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room, an exhibition that will be presented in the Knox Building’s M&T Bank Gallery, which, along with the entirety of the Knox Building, will be free of admission charges year-round. In addition to the artwork, Looking Back includes archival and community-generated photographs of visitors spending time with Samaras’s work over the years and a custom-built photobooth for visitors to record testimonials about their experience of the museum and the Mirrored Room. A screen in the gallery will display a selection of these recordings for the duration of the exhibition.
Clyfford Still: A Legacy for Buffalo is made possible through the generosity of Bank of America. Additional support provided by Aleron, Curbell, and John and Carolyn Darby.
Looking Back: Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room is made possible through the generosity of M&T Bank.
About the Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Founded in 1862, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) is the sixth oldest public art institution in the United States. For 160 years, the Buffalo AKG has collected, conserved, and exhibited the art of its time, often working directly with living artists. This tradition has given rise to one of the world’s most extraordinary collections of modern and contemporary art.
In May 2023, following the completion of the most significant campus development and expansion project in its history, the Buffalo AKG will open to the public for the first time. The project is funded by a $230 million capital campaign, the largest such campaign for a cultural institution in the history of Western New York, including $195 million raised for construction and $35 million in additional operating endowment funds.