Working on a story about the effort sparked by David Liss and Gregory Burke to bring a bonafide Toronto Biennial to fruition, I took the opportunity to drive down to Buffalo to visit the Albright Knox, which, it so happens, is the force beyond Western New York's own biennial event, "Beyond/In WNY," which opens in September.
It's comprised of about 30% Toronto artists, but nevermind that for the moment; part and parcel of my meeting with the Albright's director Louis Grachos and Hallwalls director John Massier was a lovely tour of the Albright. I hadn't been there in ages, and had forgotten what a truly inspiring small museum it was. Wander in off the street and your (or my) gaze is immediately caught by an extraodinary large canvas by Clifford Still, of which the gallery has the largest collection the world. (the Albright is doing a big Still show starting June 25, which for me is a must).
He's surrounded by a who's who of American pop, minimalist and abstract greatest hits -- Pollock, Rothko, Jasper Johns, Carl Andre, the list goes on -- but intermingled brilliantly with some amazing recent contemporary acquistions. One of my two favourites was a thick stack of papers with linked gold circles printed on them.
It was Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Double Portrait), from 1991, and the piece is what happens next: The stack is an invitation to take one with you as you go (which I did, of course). In keeping with the Albright's enviable international status, it was a joint acquistion between them and the Tate in London. My two-year old got her hands on it (the tabletop no longer a tall enough refuge for her sticky little fingers, alas), but I can take comfort it's not the only Gonzalez-Torres I'll ever own; next time I'm in Buffalo, I'll grab another one.
But my favourite moment was Vik Muniz's "Verso (Nighthawks)," a 2008 piece. Wandering along the long hallway of storied moments in American painting, I came across one leaning against the wall, face down. The wooden back of the frame was weathered and rough; a tag read "Nighthawks," which would logically lead anyone to believe this was the famous Edward Hopper painting, waiting either to be installed or moved elsewhere.
The truth was, neither. The back is the front of Muniz's piece, an exactign recreation of Nighthawks from behind. It was a cheeky little injection of interventionist good humour amid the sacrosanct world of museums and painting, and the fact the Albright owns the piece proves what I had hoped and expected: That this is a museum that truly grasps the importance of the mix, and has clarity on its mission. Would that they all could.