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The Brave Buffalo: Abstract Expressionism and the City

Friday, February 13–Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Seymour H. Knox, Jr., with artists in front of Arshile Gorky’s The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb, 1944, at the opening of the exhibition Contemporary Art Acquisitions 1957–1958, May 7, 1957. Left to right: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery Archives.

In an article entitled “The Brave Buffalo,” published in the May 1957 issue of ARTnews, Gordon M. Smith, director of the Albright Art Gallery, as the museum was then known, articulated the institution’s daring and forward-looking collecting strategy. “The museum of today,” Smith argued, “has more than ever before a duty to act as patron of these artists who are making history—not after they have made it, but while they are making it.”

Within a year of Smith’s appointment and in partnership with Buffalo-born businessman and art collector Seymour H. Knox, Jr., the Albright-Knox Art Gallery began to secure works by groundbreaking artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and David Smith at the date of their artistic production or shortly thereafter. Today, these paintings and sculptures are internationally recognized masterpieces of American Abstract Expressionism, but at the time of their acquisition, they were considered by many to be bold, or perhaps even brave.

By appropriating Smith’s title, this installation of original letters, photographs, publications, and other documents drawn from the Gallery’s archives and library collections tells the story of how the Albright-Knox became one of the first art museums in the United States to exhibit and amass actively this new art of the 1950s. More broadly, it celebrates the role that Buffalo and its citizens played in the acceptance of untested contemporary art forms, and, most important, honors the Gallery’s enduring legacy of collecting and preserving the art of the avant-garde.

Susana Tejada, Head of Research Resources, Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gabriela Zoller, Technical Services Librarian, Albright-Knox Art Gallery