Last night, in a speech that doubled as a kind of comedy routine, newly arrived Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén gave a memorable introduction for the artist Andy Goldsworthy. (Goldsworthy was in Buffalo to talk about his nearly complete commission on which he's been working with the museum for several years). In it, he called on Western New Yorkers to take ownership of the museum and invoked Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum as an example of the transformative power of a cultural institution in the life and reputation of a region.
Siren's remarks give some clues about where he may take the Albright-Knox. I'll excerpt some of them here, and you can listen to the full audio of the introduction and Goldsworthy's presentation at the bottom of the post.
I’ve been in Buffalo now for five and a half weeks.
Let me just say what an honor it is to share in the spirit of your city, which I hope I can soon call earnestly my home city. One of the most common questions that I am asked is, ‘So, have you found a home and where is it located?’ And in fact I think I was asked that question before my nomination, at least spiritually speaking.
Homes are important. Of course they are. And I think the fact that that question is asked in this place, in Buffalo and at the Albright-Knox, tells something about this institution, this home of art, this home of unique individuals, this home of unique ideas, this home of constant innovation over a period of 150 years.
It is a humbling experience to stand here before you as the 11th director of the Albright-Knox, one of the great global assets that the United States possesses, an amazing institution, an amazing history, and let me say, an amazing future which I hope to build together with you and all the other people in Western New York and Buffalo…
I really have no place standing on the stage tonight because we’re here to hear Andy Goldsworthy share ideas, thoughts with us. I also have no place on the stage tonight because what’s been accomplished over here on the campus of the Albright-Knox with Andy Goldsworthy over the past years I can take no credit in. That’s the work of Louis Grachos, one of the greatest directors that the field of contemporary and modern museums knows today. And you will see that history will bear his legacy far into the future.
So it’s just a significant honor for me to stand here humbly on the shoulders of a giant and to wish you welcome.
The Albright-Knox is really your museum. Be proud of it. Share information about it. And if sometimes you feel like it’s a little distant… what’s really the relevance of a museum in today’s world? Think of places like Bilbao. Nobody in Europe traveled to Bilbao 20 years ago. It was a place where bombs were exploding... really a not very pleasant place.
Then comes a museum director from the United States, and as the result of a long process, a museum is established: Guggenheim Bilbao, one of the great art museum of the 20th and 21st centuries, a museum that paid itself back in three years after it was constructed. It cost $200 million to build, that was in 1990. Three years later it had paid itself back. Every year, 700,000 people from different parts of the world travel to this destination. 300,000 locals, 150,000 to 300,000 locals visit every year. That’s been steady going for 15 years.
Be proud of your institution. If you’re not members yet, I ask you to become. Not because it’s a fiscal quest from me to you, but you deserve to be members of this wonderful institution. And if you know people who are not yet members, especially young kids, invite them. Buy them their ticket. $25, with that amount, a young person can come any day of the year as many times as he or she wants.
This is one of the great institutions in the world. Take ownership of it.