THE ALBRIGHT-KNOX Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, one of the world's finest collections of modern and contemporary art, will deaccession antiquities and other historic works in a series of auctions at Sotheby's over the course of 2007. Proceeds from the sales will be used exclusively for future acquisitions that conform to the mission of the Albright-Knox: "to acquire, exhibit and preserve both modern and contemporary art," a tradition that has been in place since the museum's inception in 1862. The decision to deaccession these works, all of which fall outside the scope of the museum's mission, follows a strategic planning process begun in 2000.
The selection approved for sale includes Classical, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Southeast Asian and Chinese antiquities, as well as African, Pre-Colombian and European Works of Art and Old Master Paintings. These will be offered in Sotheby's regular auctions of these categories beginning in March, with a separate catalogue featuring the top 40 highlights to be sold, as well as information on the history of the Albright-Knox, which will appear next month. Proceeds from the sales are estimated to bring in excess of $15 million.
The first work that entered the collection in 1863 was a landscape by Albert Bierstadt, executed in 1859. At the turn of the 20th century, John J. Albright set the institution on its course by donating funds for a new building. With Edward B. Green as its architect, the Greek revival structure was dedicated on May 31, 1905.
One of the gallery's most important benefactors was the late Seymour H. Knox Jr., son of the co-founder of the F.W. Woolworth Company. A charming but unfussy gentleman of the old school, Knox had been involved with the gallery since the early 1930s and by 1939 was president of its board of directors. In 1955 Gordon M. Smith became the director of the Albright and for an 18-year period, from 1955 to 1973, a close collaboration existed between him and Knox.
Their unique relationship and shared vision resulted in an unparalleled period of growth. In May 1956, Knox and Smith acquired four works of art that are today rightly viewed as legendary modern masterpieces: Franz Kline's New York, NY, 1953; Adolph Gottlieb's Frozen Sounds II , 1952; Jackson Pollock's Convergence, 1952; and Arshile Gorky's The Liver Is the Cock's Comb, 1944. Other works by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Hans Hofmann, Robert Rauschenberg and Clyfford Still were acquired within a year of their execution. In fact, the Albright-Knox was the first museum in the world to buy a work by Clyfford Still - 1957-D, No. 1, 1957, acquired in 1959. This period of prosperity also included the addition of a modernist wing, funded by Knox and designed by Buffalo native Gordon Bunshaft, of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. The newly named Albright-Knox Art Gallery was dedicated in January 1962.
Louis Grachos, who became director in 2003, has lately purchased works of both established and emerging 21st-century artists such as Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Catherine Opie, James Turrell, Jim Hodges and Rachel Whiteread.