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The Journal knocks the Knox

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The Wall Street Journal today takes sharply critical aim at "Alternating Currents," the exhibit currently spread around the Western New York area and centered at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The writer, Lance Esplund, finds some things to praise but argues that the exhibit, now winding down, does not add up to anything substantial. Worse, he finds it a sign of desperation.

The article, headlined "The Show That Ate Buffalo," alludes to the "deaccessioning" that took place a couple of years ago, when the Albright-Knox, defying the concerns of the community, sold off valuable antiquities including the sculpture "Artemis and the Stag." That move, Buffalonians will recall, raised questions that were hotly debated around town, and out of town. Such as: Whom does the gallery belong to -- its curators, or the Buffalo community that has funded it through the decades? And is it wise for the gallery to sell proven masterworks and invest instead in work of dubious value?

The Journal suggests that no, it is not. Esplund calls the gallery's big new Sol LeWitt scribble drawing, a bit of which is pictured above, "a complete snore."

He adds: "Clearly, the wager here is that the acquisition of such works will bolster the museum's reputation and transform the Albright-Knox into a destination spot This may prove, however, to be a devil's bargain."

The article concludes:

But in this the Albright-Knox is not alone. And who can blame it and other smaller museums? Feeling competitive pressure to increase their contemporary-art profiles through acquisitions and exhibitions, they are taking their cues from institutions such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met is feverishly bolstering its own lax contemporary holdings and is seriously considering leasing the Whitney Museum of American Art's Breuer building, specifically as a venue to display art since 1960.

"Alternating Currents" has its strong points. But like many other biennials (and increasingly like many museum programs), it feels more like a purveyor of fashion than of culture. The compulsion of this regional show to go global, and the Albright-Knox's insistence on bringing us the latest, hottest thing, while it sells or puts its greatest works of art in storage, are acts not of worldly sophistication, but of desperation.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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