OMA expansion of Buffalo’s AKG Museum of Art to open in May 2023

The long-awaited, OMA-led expansion of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum in Buffalo, New York, now has an opening date. On May 25, 2023, the museum, formerly known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, will welcome the public to what will be one of Western New York’s most important cultural centers. The transformation is the result of a $230 million fundraising campaign, the largest in the region’s history. When it reopens, the museum will better fulfill its mission of bringing internationally and locally renowned artists to the public, with a distinctive new building, a skybridge that connects to existing gallery spaces, a new courtyard and renovations to the existing exhibition spaces.

Founded in 1862 as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and ultimately named for local captain of industry John J. Albright, the museum, prior to OMA intervention, consisted of two main buildings: the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building, a 1905 neoclassical building designed by E. B. Green, and the Seymour H. Knox Building, a 1962 design by Gordon Bunshaft. Led by Janne Sirén, director of Peggy Pierce Elfvin, the museum’s desire to expand its campus has was made possible by a six-year capital campaign that raised $195 million for construction and $35 for operating endowment funds. This included $65 million from investor and businessman Jeffrey Gundlach, who will be the namesake of the museum’s new main building (and the “G” of its AKG rebrand), and $20 million from the government of ‘State. The expansion will also continue the museum’s goal of bringing world-class art to the public in Buffalo, which, in addition to its main campus, includes the institution’s independent public art department. The outfit has overseen the installation of 40 works across Buffalo and Erie Country since 2013.

The Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building seen from the patio of the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

Governor Kathy Hochul, who recently won an election to continue in her role, said “the expansion is a transformative project that will provide a significant boost to Buffalo’s future.” As A Recently reported, other significant investments in Buffalo include a Populous-designed stadium for the Buffalo Bills, currently slated to open in 2026.

Alice Jacobs, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a press release that “the vision of this project is to create a museum that can serve as a platform for human expression and a cultural resource for all members of our community”. To this end, as A has already covered, OMA Design, in conjunction with Executive Architect Cooper Robertson, will expand the campus with the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building, a new five-story glass-clad building. OMA beat four other practices in a design competition for the building and updated its earlier scheme in response to outcry from historic curators. Throughout, the team was led by OMA partner Shohei Shigematsu, whose cultural portfolio includes the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the reimagined headquarters of Sotheby’s in New York and an events pavilion. for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Shigematsu’s design for an addition to the New Museum in New York is currently under construction.

In Buffalo, the new Gundlach building, resembling a trapezoidal prism with its top corners bent inward, will increase the museum’s gallery space by 30,000 square feet. The basement includes an entrance to the building through an underground parking garage and features others will know, an “immersive woven tapestry” by Swedish artist Miriam Bäckström that uses 3D technology and virtual reality “to create the illusion of depth, transparency and three-dimensionality”. The three floors above ground include a black box theater, coffee bar and gallery spaces, including a 7,530 square foot space on the third floor interrupted only by two structural columns. Visitors can walk through the enclosed sculpture terrace on the second floor for a 360-degree view of campus and nearby Delaware Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

rendering of an interior art museum gallery
The 7,500 square foot gallery on the third floor of the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

Enhancing the flow of people and artwork through the museum and embodying the continuity of the museum’s hospitality mission, the John J. Albright Bridge will connect the Gundlach Building to the existing neoclassical Wilmers Building. Stepping down from the former’s second floor to the latter’s main level, OMA’s glass-walled design makes the ADA Galleries accessible without having to remove a historic oak grove. The deck space also allows artwork to be transported between the two buildings in an air-conditioned environment. Additional work on the Wilmers Building will include a new roof, a cleaning of its marble facade and the reconstruction of a historic staircase that originally descended on its west facade.

rendering of the interior of an airlift
Interior of the John J. Albright Bridge. Courtesy of OMA New York

Speaking of the possibilities offered by the expanded gallery spaces, Cathleen Chaffee, the museum’s chief curator, Charles Balbach, said that “the greatly expanded museum will provide, for the first time in our history, enough space to celebrate the artists from our extraordinary modern collection. while honoring new works that speak to contemporary experiences. In addition to the expanded reach of exhibitions in the gallery’s main spaces, an installation by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces will transform the courtyard of the Knox Building. Previously open to the elements, Eliasson and Behmann’s common sky, constructed from metal, glass and mirror, will enclose the courtyard in a reimagined town square. Speaking of its name, the space will center the museum’s community engagement activities, and the entire building will be free. When it reopens, the building will house additional classrooms, a new restaurant, retail spaces, a 350-seat auditorium and over 2,000 square feet of gallery space.

render of an airlift
The John J. Albright Bridge, which connects the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building and the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. Courtesy of OMA New York

For its reopening, the museum’s exhibitions will include a presentation of 400 works from the institution’s modern and contemporary art collections, with works by Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Visitors will progress through the exhibition in chronological order, passing through late 18th to mid-20th century art in the Wilmers Building and encountering late 20th to 21st century art on the second floor of the Gundlach Building. On the wide-open third floor, the reopening exhibition will feature recently acquired works of art, emphasizing works by living artists, as the museum has always done. The ground floor of the Gundlach building will house Clyfford Still: a total visionan exhibition of the museum’s entire collection of works by the abstract expressionist, which is the second largest collection in the world after the artist’s eponymous institution in Denver.

In addition to its cultural impact, the museum’s expansion is expected to increase the institution’s economic impact to $36-47 million per year for New York’s economy, according to the University at Buffalo Regional Institute. The majority of the museum’s economic benefits will be in Erie County, including, upon reopening, 135 full-time jobs. As Governor Hochul summed up, “This project will add new life and vitality to this great historic institution, and is a continuation of the ongoing revitalization of Western New York.”

“This historic milestone would not have been possible without the efforts of an incredible team and the support of thousands of people who believe in Buffalo’s mission,” Sirén said in a press release. “The unprecedented generosity of Jeffrey Gundlach was the jet fuel that propelled this campaign forward, and the incredible support of Governor Hochul and New York State got us across the finish line. Our new campus allows us to create world-class museum experiences for visitors of all ages, backgrounds and identities. Words cannot describe how thrilled we are to welcome the world to Buffalo AKG on May 25, 2023, a pivotal moment in the history of our city and region.

Expect more coverage from A in 2023 when the Buffalo AKG Art Museum opens to the public.

Mildred D. Field