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Director's Lecture Series 2016–2017

Six Unforgettable Artworks in the Albright-Knox Collection

Tuesdays, September 20, 2016; October 18, 2016; November 15, 2016; February 7, 2017; April 4, 2017; and April 18, 2017, 6:30–8 pm

5:30–6:30 pm, Reception
6:30–7:30 pm, Lecture
7:30–8 pm, Questions & Conversation

Tickets and Scholarships

The inaugural Director’s Lecture Series of 2013–2014 addressed the history and evolution of museums. In 2014–2015 we considered the birth and rise of the avant-garde. In the 2015–2016 season, we studied traditional art historical genres and their continuing resonance in the contemporary era.

This year’s series will take an entirely different approach: Each lecture will focus on a single, truly great work of art in the Albright-Knox’s collection. Some of these works, like those by Paul Gauguin, Joán Miró, and Lucas Samaras, are pillars of the collection; others are likely to become icons for future generations. The series is designed by Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Dr. Janne Sirén and presented by Dr. Sirén, Deputy Director Dr. Joe Lin-Hill, and Senior Curator Dr. Cathleen Chaffee.

Each of this season’s six lectures provides a unique opportunity to join presenters for a deep, hour-long study of a single work of art. This focus allows for close analysis of the artwork, its place in our collection, and its place in the history of art. Lectures address artistic motivation and feature rich conversations about each work’s context of production and the spirit of its time. Each lecture presents new research that argues for the work’s greatness and proposes reasons for its enduring relevance to present and future generations. We will discuss how and why the work came into the Albright-Knox’s collection, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the way museum collections are built and a celebration of the great patrons that help bring those collections into being. This year’s Director’s Lecture Series presents the story of six timely—and timeless—works of art that help define the continuing greatness of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Each lecture will be followed by a question-and-answer conversation.

Janne Sirén, Cathleen Chaffee, and Joe Lin-Hill

Janne Sirén, Cathleen Chaffee, and Joe Lin-Hill with Nancy Rubins’s Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here, 2010–11. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Lucas Samaras’s Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room), 1966

Lucas Samaras's Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room), 1966
Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece, 1936). Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room), 1966. Mirror on wood, 96 x 96 x 120 inches (243.8 x 243.8 x 304.8 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1966 (K1966:15). © Lucas Samaras, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Cathleen Chaffee, Senior Curator

The Albright-Knox acquired Lucas Samaras’s groundbreaking Room No. 2 in 1966, the same year it was created. Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room) was one of the earliest installation artworks designed for viewers to walk into, rather than simply to look at from a distance, and it was the first such immersive environment to enter a museum collection. Before its creation, Samaras had become well known for a series of small Box sculptures encrusted with materials atypical in 1960s art, such as yarn, bones, pins, synthetic hair, pencils, razor blades, and taxidermy birds. These mysterious boxes referred to the human body and also contained autobiographical elements, in the manner of reliquaries. The Mirrored Room represented a departure from these fetish boxes, to a room-sized cube that contained little except a mirrored table and chair. Fifty years later, the Mirrored Room remains a treasured example of the Albright-Knox’s long tradition of acquiring challenging new work by emerging artists. This lecture will provide greater insight into the work’s importance and trace the vital precedent it set for installation-based practices in contemporary art.

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Joán Miró’s Harlequin’s Carnival, 1924–25

Joán Miró's Carnaval d'Arlequin (Harlequin’s Carnival), 1924–25
Joán Miró (Spanish, 1893–1983). Carnaval d'Arlequin (Harlequin’s Carnival), 1924–25. Oil on canvas, 26 x 35 5/8 inches (66 x 90.5 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1940 (RCA1940:8). © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Joe Lin-Hill, Deputy Director

The Harlequin was a common theater character who was usually the victim of unrequited love and frequently played the guitar. In this painting he is a guitar, with the diamond-patterned shirt associated with the character, along with other traditional features like the mustache, beard, admiral’s hat, and pipe. The painting may refer to Mardi Gras, the Catholic celebration that begins the fasting of Lent, but it is certainly an idiosyncratic rendition of a carnival scene. Much of Miró’s thinking about the work is suggested in his following statement on its creation:

“I tried to capture the hallucinations that my hunger produced in me. It’s not that I painted what I saw in my dreams, as Breton and his lot predicated in those days, but that hunger provoked in me a sort of trance . . . . After long meditation on what I proposed to do, I began to paint, and as I painted I introduced all the changes I believed to be appropriate. I recognize that I was very interested in [the fifteenth-century painter] Hieronymus Bosch, but I wasn’t thinking of him when I was working on the ‘Carnival.’ In the canvas certain elements already appear that will be repeated later in other works: the ladder, an element of flight and evasion, but also of elevation; animals and, above all, insects, which I have always found very interesting; the dark sphere that appears to the right is a representation of the globe, because in those days I was obsessed with one idea: ‘I must conquer the world!’”

A joyous painting with all kinds of hybrid creatures playing, singing, dancing, and celebrating, Harlequin’s Carnival is categorically recognized as among Miró’s greatest works.

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Paul Gauguin’s The Yellow Christ, 1889

Paul Gauguin's The Yellow Christ, 1889
Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903). Le Christ jaune (The Yellow Christ), 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 28 7/8 inches (92.1 x 73.3 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; General Purchase Funds, 1946 (1946:4).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Janne Sirén, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director

In the summer of 1886, Paul Gauguin visited the small village of Pont-Aven in Brittany where he became fascinated with the history of peasant life and its traditional costumes, customs, and rituals. Over the course of the next several years, he painted numerous scenes of peasant life and the countryside, including The Yellow Christ. Gauguin said he chose the color yellow to convey how he felt about the isolated life and piety of the peasants, several of whom are depicted dressed in their distinctive regional costume and kneeling at the foot of the cross. The simplicity and directness of Breton peasants greatly appealed to Gauguin, who made his famous protest against Western sophistication by exiling himself to the South Seas not long after completing this painting. Brittany was Gauguin’s first step away from Paris, and his works completed during this time mark a major stylistic departure from Impressionism and a significant contribution to late-19th-century art.

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Hanne Darboven’s 408 drawings in 10 chapters, 1972–73

Hanne Darboven’s 408 drawings in 10 chapters, 1972–73
Hanne Darboven’s K: 15 x 15-F: 15 x 15 (Ordner:1), Varianten-aufzeichnungen 1–99 (Ordner:5), and Varianten-aufzeichnungen 1–99 (Ordner:6), all 1972–73, in Looking at Tomorrow: Light and Language from The Panza Collection, 1967–1990. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Cathleen Chaffee, Senior Curator

This immersive series of drawings by Hanne Darboven offers a striking example of the artist’s daily artmaking practice. Often using the current calendar date as her starting point, Darboven produced systematic charts and sequences of numbers as well as long strands of looped forms that evoke handwriting. Both serve as methods of counting and marking time as well as giving material form to its passage. While the artist’s drawings often explore the many possible relationships that can exist between integers, her use of numbers in no way represents an interest in mathematical logic, as Darboven herself warned, “I only use numbers because it is a way of writing without describing. . . I choose numbers because they are so constant, confined, and artificial.”

In 1966, Darboven moved from her native Germany to New York, where she met and exhibited with many artists of the burgeoning Minimalist and Conceptual art movements, including artists in the Albright-Knox’s collection, such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt (who was an early supporter of her work and remained a lifelong friend). Although she lived in New York for only two years, it was a formative experience and established writing and numbers as the building blocks for her work in the 1970s. This group of drawings was acquired from the Panza collection in 2015, and this lecture will be the first opportunity to learn about the work’s importance in relation to the art of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the Albright-Knox’s collection.

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Martin Wong’s Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing, 1989

Martin Wong’s Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing, 1989
Martin Wong (American, 1946–1999). Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 72 inches (182.9 cm) diameter. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 2014 (2014:24). Copyright of the Estate of Martin Wong, 1989.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Joe Lin-Hill, Deputy Director

Martin Wong arrived on New York’s Lower East Side in 1978. Over the next fifteen years, his gritty, realist visions would come to represent this dynamic neighborhood more as an extended portrait series than as the cityscapes they appear to be. The people and incidents Wong portrayed, and the architectural settings that play leading roles in his work, are central to the local milieu that gave rise to Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, and many others whose work defines the period. Wong’s work is definitive in a similar way; he documents a moment when gentrification began to displace the bodegas (corner stores), iglesias (churches catering to Spanish-speaking communities), gay bars, and drug dens that had given the neighborhood its character.

Wong is best known for his loving depictions of chained storefront facades and the brick walls of Lower East Side tenement buildings, although these buildings were often teeming with local life. Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing features the tenement buildings and brickwork that are quintessential Wong, but the central allegorical character here is unusual. The figure depicted in Liberty Mourning grieves over the events of June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government suppressed the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. The ‘sister’ referred to in Wong’s title is the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue that students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing erected in Tiananmen Square. That statue faced off against the giant portrait of Chairman Mao that hangs on the so-called Gate of Heavenly Peace. Although this work was made in 1989 it is a very recent acquisition of the Albright-Knox, and this will be the first opportunity to hear about its importance in the context of the museum’s collection and art of the period.

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Theaster Gates’s Civil Tapestry 5, 2012

Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 6:30–8 pm

By Dr. Janne Sirén, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director

The history of America’s long struggle for civil rights is one of Theaster Gates’s predominant themes. He directly approaches this subject in a series of objects and paintings (2010–onward) fashioned from decommissioned fire hoses. The fire hoses employed by Gates are well used, but traces of text—specifying where they were fabricated, their gauge, and compliance with various fire codes—are sometimes still legible. In the context of Gates’s work, these practical details take on a variety of connotations. The hoses in Civil Tapestry 5, for example, read “1962,” and “Compton, Calif.,” a hub of African American culture as well as gang violence. 1962 was the year deadly riots erupted over racial integration of the University of Mississippi, and President Kennedy was forced to deploy Federal Marshals to ensure the safety of James Meredith, the lone African-American student admitted there. Theaster Gates pictures a world in which this moment in American history has infiltrated everything—even works of apparent abstraction. This lecture will be the first opportunity for an in-depth discussion of the true importance of this recent acquisition and of Gates’s international prominence in contemporary art.

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Theaster Gates’s Civil Tapestry 5, 2012
Theaster Gates (American, born 1973). Civil Tapestry 5, 2012. Decommissioned fire hoses on oil cloth mounted on wood panel, 58 x 208 x 4 inches (147.3 x 528.3 x 10.2 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Bequest of Arthur B. Michael, by exchange, 2014 (2014:3a-b). © 2012 Theaster Gates. Photograph by Ben Westoby, courtesy White Cube.


Tickets and Scholarships

Series Tickets

$500 general admission
$375 for Members (FREE for Members at the Andy Warhol Circle level and higher)
$200 for students (with valid student ID)
Buy Series Tickets

Individual Lecture Tickets

$85 general admission
$65 for Members (FREE for Members at the Andy Warhol Circle level and higher)
$35 for students (with valid student ID)

Tickets can be purchased online at the links above, by phone at 716.270.8292, or in person at the Albright-Knox Admissions Desk. This series is a complimentary benefit for Members at the Andy Warhol Circle and higher.

As a special benefit, tickets for this year’s Director’s Lecture Series will include a pre-lecture reception in AK Café. Each ticket includes one complementary glass of wine per person, light hors d’oeuvres, and the opportunity to visit with the evening’s lecturer.


Scholarships are available. For more information, please call 716.270.8282. 

Proceeds from the Director’s Lecture Series directly benefit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Program Sponsors

The Director's Lecture Series is made possible, in part, through the generous support of HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Additional support has been provided by WSF Industries, Inc.

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