Albright-Knox reaches $100 million donation goal


Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News

Western New York native Jeffrey Gundlach is the founder of investment firm DoubleLine Capital LP.

Patrick Koster, News Editor

Amidst the Buffalo Billion controversy, a local institution has something to celebrate.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, right across from SUNY Buffalo State on Elmwood Avenue, has raised more than $100 million for its expansion and renovation project in less than three months.

With the help of state officials and Amherst native and billionaire bond-trader Jeffrey Gundlach, the Albright-Knox will transform into the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum, or Buffalo AKG Art Museum.

One of the reasons for the rapid collection of funds stems from Gundlach, who pledged to donate $42.5 million to the Albright-Knox, the largest single private donation to a local institute in Buffalo history. The Albright-Knox board voted last week to change the gallery’s name in honor of Gundlach’s donation.

The project, called AK360, will feature enhanced parking facilities and landscaping.

“Together with OMA, our architectural partner led by Shohei Shigematsu, we will create a new building worthy of the Albright-Knox’s collection,” the Albright-Knox website states about the project. “The redesigned campus will form a hub between Frederick Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park and a flourishing Elmwood Avenue Cultural District, and will feature renovated education facilities and programs.”

Gundlach spoke of his love for contemporary modern art at a press conference held at the Albright-Knox on Friday, Sept. 23. He described some of his early experiences at the art gallery:

“My first experience was that of being a fairly young Buffalonian, being dragged there by my mother and my grandmother.”

He then went into detail about many of the artworks in art collector Seymour Knox, Jr.’s collection. He noted the dates in which the artworks were completed and the dates Knox acquired them, which were oftentimes very close to one another. Some of the artworks mentioned by Gundlach’s were by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein and Clyfford Still.

Gundlach said Knox “was probably the greatest art collector of the entire 20th century.”

“This museum stands on the shoulders of giants,” Gundlach said, referring to Buffalo philanthropist John Albright and Knox. “What strikes me and humbles me to be here today, to be part of this museum, this institution, is my awe for the great collecting of Seymour H. Knox, Jr. Seymour’s name is not being removed from the museum and the Knox name is not, but it wouldn’t matter anyway because you can’t turn around in the hallways of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery without seeing ‘Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Gov. Andrew Cuomo also spoke at the press conference. They pledged $5 million each to the project.

“We tend to think that art is something that you enjoy later in life when you have a more sophisticated understanding,” Cuomo said. “That’s not Jeffrey’s [Gundlach’s] story. It’s the inspiration of the young mind and the mind as it’s forming and as it’s being created, and opening new visions and new images for that mind. And to have that presence, to have that access is vital.”

After commenting on the art gallery’s project and contributions, Cuomo addressed the elephant in the room – the recent Buffalo Billion controversy. The day before the press conference, nine men were arrested on federal corruption charges connected to Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development project in Buffalo. The project has been playing a vital role in the “renaissance” of Buffalo.

“These charges against these nine individuals will have absolutely nothing to do with the energy, the progress and the momentum of Western New York’s revitalization under the Buffalo Billion project,” Cuomo said. “I am more committed to Western New York’s revitalization than ever before. I want you to know that we are not going to miss a beat.”

Louis Ciminelli, CEO of LPCiminelli, Inc., is one of the men currently under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Ciminelli’s company is the general contractor of the Greenleaf Development Co. housing project on Grant Street, where Buffalo State students are expected to be housed when the project is finished.

Still, Cuomo insisted that Buffalo will continue to grow during Friday’s press conference at the Albright-Knox:

“It’s not just about a handful of years. Buffalo has gone from a national symbol of decline to a national symbol of possibility.”

While Cuomo was swarmed with members of the press asking further questions about the Buffalo Billion after the Albright-Knox event, there were other critics of the New York State governor standing across Elmwood Avenue near Rockwell Hall.

Protestors from Save Ontario Shores, Inc. lined up with signs to voice their opinions on Cuomo’s support for the proposed building of wind turbines in the towns of Yates and Somerset by the Lighthouse Wind industrial project. Save Ontario Shores President Pamela Atwater said New York State’s Article 10 regulation takes away a town’s ability to determine what energy projects are done in the town. She said 60-70 percent of town residents are opposed to the project and five of the seven siting board members for the project were appointed by Cuomo.

“There’s a lot that’s being done [that] we are aware of, behind the scenes in terms of industrial wind and I’m not surprised there are things that are going on in Buffalo concerning SolarCity,” Atwater said. “I’ve been shocked at what the common person is not involved in, in terms of how our tax dollars are being spent. It’s appalling.”

email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KatPoster