Buffalo is remaking its museum in its own image
Another site-specific commission is that of Miriam Bäckström, who transformed an underground space that connects the parking lot with the stairwell of the new building into something heavenly. Her woven tapestry with an abstraction of concentric circles, embedded in the curvature of the architecture, gives an illusion of infinity.
Given the museum’s history with living artists, “it would have been a missed opportunity if we didn’t really integrate some of the contemporary voices into the space itself,” said chief curator Cathleen Chaffee. “We want people to feel like they’re stepping into a work of art from the moment they arrive and not make them wait 10 minutes to check their coat and get their ticket,” she said.
In the exhibition rooms, now doubled in size at 5,000 square meters, some 400 works from the collection are displayed chronologically, starting in the neoclassical building (with a new roof and warm red oak replacing cracked marble floors) and continuing through the three floors of the new building (named for financier Jeffrey E. Gundlach, who contributed $65 million to the capital campaign).
Four galleries highlight the museum’s historic relationship with abstract expressionist painter Clyfford Still, displaying all 33 of his towering canvases in the collection. An adjoining double-height gallery showcases contemporary artists with an affinity for Still, including Joe Bradley, Sterling Ruby, Stanley Whitney, and Harold Ancart.
Another highlight is a compelling multichannel video installation by Lap-See Lam, a shadow play inspired by the Chinese family restaurant in Sweden and the artist’s debut in an American museum.
Even people just driving past the campus can see works by the likes of Alexander Calder, Robert Irwin, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Lawrence Weiner, clearly visible through the glass facade on the second floor sculpture terrace, which forms the internal cube of galleries in the contemporary building. “The Gundlach building looks the way it does because the community wanted it to,” said Mr Sirén, highlighting the porosity.
“I don’t think we could have raised this money,” Mr. Sirén added, “if we hadn’t engaged our community and been authentic about it.”