Bloomberg had an article about the renovated Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY, now rebranded Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Prior to the renovation, the director said people would frequently tell him the museum was meant for the elites. The post-renovation goal is to have the working class residents of the city feel comfortable visiting the space.
It was interesting to read that the director was insistent that the town square plaza not become a lobby. There will be play areas with Legos rather than admission desks and coat checks. They also looked at 12 other cold climate cities and took inspiration from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s glass enclosed atrium to design a glass enclosed space that will act “…as a kind of snow collector when it’s cold enough and a place to watch the rain pour down when it’s not.” They engaged the community in focus groups to get ideas about how the space should be used when the museum opens again.
I was a little concerned about how well-thought out their efforts at connecting with the working class might turn out when I read that recent programming included a gamelan and Wayang puppetry dance. But in fact, Buffalo is apparently a center of gamelan and other Indonesian arts.
The crystal sculptural elements of the Town Square space are also a favored space for selfies:
Visitors gravitated to the base of “Common Sky,” and few resisted the urge to open up the cameras on their smartphones after looking up at the mirrored panels along what is now Buffalo’s hottest selfie spot. Giving it a run for its money is Lucas Samaras’s “Mirrored Room” (1966), one of the museum’s most beloved, aptly named pieces, which has been fully restored and given pride of place in a new (free) gallery space all to itself in the Knox Building.
The Bloomberg article acknowledged some of the troubles that the museum world in general is facing by wondering aloud if this public gathering space may provide a convenient locale for protests:
Buffalo is deeply segregated by race and class, while its destination art museum is run by a nonprofit institution dependent on the support of the region’s elites. How will the museum react if a protest of a board member takes place inside Town Square? Or a rally in support of staff unionization?