Disturbing Changes at the Albright Knox

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Disturbing Changes at the Albright Knox

From Michael W. Wood

Published before 2005


The following letter was sent to Art Voice on 11/14/2003. They not only didn't publish it, they did not even acknowledge receiving it.

To the Editors:

        Your article in the November 13 issue, A Fresh Spirit, alludes to a new look at the Albright-Knox. I walked through the museum recently and was appalled. The Albright-Knox has had a fairly longstanding policy of hiding away most of the traditional art still owned by the museum in the storage bins (many great pieces were sold off), so that they can devote as much space as possible to displaying "modern art" and post-modern gobbledygook. This situation has suddenly worsened dramatically.
        Up until recently, the museum at least had a couple of small rooms on the upper floor where you could see some real art. There was usually a room devoted to American art, where you could see a selection of works by artists such as Eakins, Bellows, Dickinson, Harnett and Hassam. Sometimes, they even "condescended" to show a Bierstadt. Another small room often contained some traditional older European art.
        Although the modern art mavens no doubt despised them, they never-the-less displayed, in a corner of the lower floor near the gallery shop, a few jewels of academic art, such as the museum's Tissot and its Vibert. In spite of the museum's emphasis on modern and contemporary art, those have long been its most popular paintings. Now all of that is gone. Not only that, even most of the museum's great collection of early 20th century French art has been relegated to the storage bins. What little remains is placed in a small, but inappropriately wide open, corner of the first floor where it looks like it was stuck as an afterthought. Rodin's great Age of Bronze is stuck in the corner of the corner, where you can barely see it and no one could possibly walk around to view it from the other side. Instead, the museum is entirely filled with abstract expressionism, pop art, and all sorts of silly nonsense that followed them.
        I understand that the Albright Knox has decided that its "mission" is to emphasize "Contemporary Art," but as the only art museum in the city showing national and international art, I think it is their responsibility to show a more diverse collection. (The Burchfield-Penney, across the street, which has suddenly become far and away the better museum, is devoted solely to art with local connections.) I don't think Western New Yorkers should have to get in their cars and drive to Rochester or Cleveland to see examples of great American and European traditional art.
        One would have to say the Albright-Knox has become all Knox and no Albright, because there is nothing left of the museum it started out as. This process goes back a long way. In R. H. Ives Gammel's great book The Twilight of Painting, when he wanted to demonstrate how little respect many American museums have had for traditional painting, he chose to illustrate two magnificent paintings, William Sergeant Kendall's Allison and Joseph DeCamp's The Blue Mandarin Coat, for which the museum paid a great deal of money in the early 20th Century. It then disposed of them cheaply at auction in 1943. One would have to say that in 2003, the process has reached its ultimate conclusion. One can see all kinds of clever but silly post-modern assemblages and great expanses of canvases with paint thrown at them in a haphazard manner, but next to nothing that demonstrates that any artist represented ever actually knew how to paint.
Regardless of whether or not the museum's curators consider a pile of what looks like rotting cabbage in the middle of a room great art, I think it is their duty to show something of the alternative.

        --- Michael W. Wood, M.D. ---

I would be interested in hearing from others who feel similarly about this. I can be reached at wood@acsu.buffalo.edu. Please put some reference to the Albright Knox in the subject line, so I don't accidentally delete the message along with the spam.