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Summary of The Albright-Knox Art Gallery

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY is actually not a gallery at all, but a very large museum. With the help of its parent organization, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, and the financial resources of its main benefactor, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., the gallery became a leading venue in the U.S. for Modern and Contemporary art, and in the 1950s played a significant role in defining what is Abstract Expressionism.
Background of the Albright-Knox Gallery: the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, John J. Albright and the Albright Art Gallery
The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, founded in 1862, is the parent institution of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and is the sixth oldest public arts organization in the U.S. In 1890 the wealthy Buffalo entrepreneur and industrialist John J. Albright made a generous gift to the Academy in order to establish the Albright Art Gallery. It was originally intended to serve as the Fine Arts Pavilion for the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, but this was prevented by delays in construction. The gallery finally opened its doors to the public in 1905.

Background of the Albright-Knox Gallery Upon completion, the gallery building boasted a total of 102 columns, the second most for any U.S. building, with only a few less than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The marble used for the gallery and its sculpture court came from the same Baltimore quarry that was used to construct the Washington Monument. The gallery was one of the last art museums to be constructed in the Ionic temple style, the best examples today being New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum.

The Rise of Abstract Expressionism
In 1952, the Albright Art Gallery exhibited Expressionism in American Painting, one of the first exhibitions of its kind in an American museum.

In 1954 the symposium, The Artist, the Critic, and the Scholar, was held at the Albright Gallery. Attendees included the sculptor David Smith and the critic Clement Greenberg. At the symposium, Smith delivered his now-famous Buffalo Speech (see Quotes below).

Gordon M. Smith becomes Director
One year later, the gallery appointed Gordon M. Smith as its new director. Although the Albright had welcomed various Abstract contemporary works, prior to 1955 the gallery was largely devoted to older European art forms from Impressionism to Cubism. Under Smith's leadership, the Albright shifted its broader collection policy to become almost exclusively devoted to collecting, exhibiting, and permanently housing contemporary art. In this effort, Smith recruited the president of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Seymour H. Knox, Jr.

Seymour H. Knox and the 1962 Additions
Knox had sat on the board of The Albright Art Gallery since 1926 and had been a consistent voice of praise for contemporary Modern art in the U.S. Smith and Knox (1898-1990) formed a partnership that eventually made the gallery a primary location for contemporary art exhibits.

Opening of Contemporary Art: In 1956 Knox made a generous gift of 8 paintings to the gallery - all seminal 20th-century works in their own right - that included Gorky's The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944), Pollock's Convergence (1952), and Rothko's Orange and Yellow (1956). With these new acquisitions, the gallery was well-equipped to stage its most popular exhibition to date: Contemporary Art: Acquisitions 1954-1957 (more on this below).

As early as 1942, there had been discussion among various Buffalo philanthropists and businessmen about extending the gallery space, but it wasn't until the arrival of Knox that any plan was put into effect. Starting in 1957, with the financial contributions of Knox and his family, construction began on a new south wing for the gallery, made from marble and glass. On January 19, 1962, the new space was dedicated by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the gallery was officially renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Knox himself donated over 160 paintings to be showcased in the gallery's new wing.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is the institution chiefly responsible for turning the city of Buffalo into an unlikely destination for avant-garde cultural events and art. In the 1960s, Gordon Smith and Seymour Knox revitalized the gallery, turning it into a significant center for contemporary art, beginning with Abstract Expressionism. They also sponsored larger community events, such as the renowned Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today, which encompassed every imaginable artistic medium, including dance, music, film, literature and the visual arts.

Most Important Exhibitions:

Expressionism in American Painting

Run time:

May 10 - June 29, 1952

Artists Represented:

Hans Hofmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Rico Lebrun, Philip Guston, Mark Tobey, Frederick Childe Hassam and others.


Even in 1952, Abstract Expressionism was not yet fully defined or understood, and even well known artists such as Pollock and de Kooning were widely viewed as independent entities working outside any particular movement. The Albright Art Gallery's Expressionism in American Painting was the first museum exhibit of its kind in its attempt to comprehensively define Abstract Expressionism by exhibiting a variety of works, from Kandinsky (who arguably painted the first abstracts) to Hofmann (one of the first artists in America to champion the abstract form), all under the aegis of Abstract Expressionism.

Contemporary Art: Acquisitions 1954-1957

Run time:

May - June, 1957

Artists Represented:

Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, David Hare, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and others.


This exhibition could not have happened without the help and donations of Seymour Knox, who almost single-handedly built the gallery's arsenal of major contemporary artworks. Showcasing both the giants of Abstract Expressionism and those who would help lead the way into Neo-Dada and Pop art, no one had imagined that such an impressive exhibition could be housed anywhere outside New York City. In a letter addressed to Gordon Smith, the New York art dealer Martha Jackson wrote, "It is time that Buffalo developed some good contemporary collections. You couldn't have given a better send-off to stimulate new interest in painting."

"The museum of today has more than ever before a duty to act as a patron of these artists [the work of the Abstract Expressionists] -who are making history-not after they have made it, but while they are making it."
-Gordon M. Smith, from his article The Brave Buffalo, in ART News, May 1957

"The confidence [the artist] may get from the critic is usable, but suspect. He must always be able to discard it in case it turns against him."
-David Smith, from his Buffalo Speech, delivered at the symposium The Artist, the Critic, and the Scholar, April 23, 1954

Content written by:
  Justin Wolf


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