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Tyler Green on the Albright-Knox's Nancy Rubins

Albright Art
Colin Cook, installer for Nancy Rubins, put the finishing touches on a piece of art on the front lawn of the Albright-Knox Art gallery on Thursday, June 16, 2011. Photo by Harry Scull Jr. / The Buffalo News

Today on Modern Art Notes, Tyler Green has glowing things to say about Nancy Rubins' canoe sculpture on the west lawn of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Here's an excerpt:

...Instead of self-consciously providing Buffalo a point of greatness around which to rally, the A-K has struggled to define itself in recent years. (Everyone in Buffalo seems to know that it is a home to great American architecture, but in my experience residents seem much less aware that the Albright is anything special.) Several years ago the A-K sold off its best non-modern/contemporary art in an effort to devote its limited resources to what it has done best for the last few decades, modern and contemporary art, but handled the situation poorly. Last year it hosted the worst and most problematic exhibition any significant American art museum has shown in at least a decade.

Fortunately, through the administrative bungling the museum’s curators have continued to buy and exhibit significant art. Few American art museums are as dedicated to exhibiting their collections as is the Albright. While this focus is an obvious necessity for a cash-strapped museum, the A-K has done it particularly well. Witness its recent installation (and promotion) of a particularly fantastic late Sol LeWitt wall drawing or its strong, ongoing installation of video art from its collection.

Here’s hoping ‘The Canoes’ is an indication that the Albright-Knox is getting back to what great art museums should do: Acquiring and exhibiting great art — and using it to make lasting connections with the museum’s hometown audience.

Green, an astute observer of the museum over the years, is correct that the Albright-Knox has struggled recently. The mammoth deaccession was, as he writes, above-board but poorly handled from a public relations perspective and its Sabres exhibition was indeed shameful.

But what's less obvious to outsiders is that the Albright, under the leadership of Louis Grachos, has served as an integral force for the cohesion and coming-of-age of Western New York's visual art scene. And it's tough to over-trumpet the significance of that trend, which goes straight to the heart of the museum's interaction with the community.

The regional collaboration fostered by Grachos and the museum has resulted in such significant projects as Beyond/In Western New York and promises to play into the recently formed regionwide arts agency whose purpose is to finally give the artistic output of Buffalo-Niagara the promotion and resources it deserves. Its hosting of events like the Music is Art Festival and Rockin' at the Knox, among many other projects, have integrated the museum into the community far more meaningfully than any previous administration has deigned to attempt.

No doubt, the gallery made a serious mistake in mounting that Sabres show, and we should be ever-mindful of the dangerous potential of blurring the line between a non-for-profit educational space (i.e. a museum) and a commercial advertising space (i.e. a mall).

But I'd also argue that the museum has been one of the single most important catalysts for the blossoming of a new era of collaboration and public appreciation for the visual arts across the region. The PR regime at the museum has changed since its deaccession days, and I'd argue for the better. At the preference of its director, the gallery's work in this regard has occurred largely behind the scenes.

The Albright, like a lot of museums, still has a lot of entrenched "temple-on-the-hill" history to overcome. It's made great strides in recent years (of which the Nancy Rubins sculpture is but one of hundreds) in bringing down those artificial barriers between art and audience, but the work has been slow. Green is hopeful that the museum is finally striving to connect the local audience with engaging art. I'd argue that -- despite its not-insignificant errors -- it's been making serious progress toward that goal for years.

--Colin Dabkowski

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