Construction of a kaleidoscopic canopy of transparent and mirrored glass is expected to start this week at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
The sculpture, known as “Common Sky,” will cover a 6,000-square-foot civic space coming to the Seymour H. Knox Building. It’s expected to take three months to complete.
The canopy, designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and German architect Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces, is one of the museum’s most significant additions in the expansion now underway. The centerpiece is a three-story semi-transparent building being built on the northern end of the campus, which will allow the museum to more than double its exhibition space and will serve as the new entrance.
“This is a significant milestone in the construction of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum,” said Janne Sirén, the museum’s director. “Common Sky is an artistic landmark and a source of inspiration that will draw visitors from across Western New York and around the world.”
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The Albright-Knox will officially be renamed the Buffalo AKG Art Museum when it’s expected to reopen in spring 2023. “AKG” stands for Albright-Knox arts patrons John J. Albright, Seymour H. Knox Jr. and the addition of a new name – Jeffrey E. Gundlach. He has given $65 million to the project, the largest philanthropic gift in Western New York history.
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Fabrication of Common Sky began in Petersberg, Germany, in July 2021 by the company Hahner Technik. The sculpture was assembled and welded together under Eliasson’s oversight. It was then taken apart in segments for transport by ship to North America, and then to Buffalo, where it will be reassembled.
Common sky’s frame is a double-layered, domed steel structure composed of primed and painted structural steel. It will contain 490 triangular panes of glass, 147 of them partially mirror coated.
Eliasson’s sculptural fusions of artwork and architecture often deal with the presence or absence of light. His installations include a series of monumental waterfalls in New York Harbor, and a project in which he dyed large sections of rivers green with environmentally safe dye in Norway, Los Angeles, Stockholm and Tokyo.
The installation of interlocking glass panels he’s created for the Albright-Knox is intended to integrate the indoors with the outdoors, with a funnel that represents, in part, the turbulent snow and rain known to Western New York.
Eliasson has described Common Sky as an “expansive sculpture through which visitors experience the constant motion of the surrounding natural environment.”
“We at the Albright talk about the transformative nature of art, and it is a truth of this exhibition,” Aaron Ott said. “This exhibition, right now, is absolutely electric with work.”
The new civic space will be located where a sculpture garden had been in the Gordon Bunshaft-designed 1962 building, which houses the museum’s auditorium. The Knox building will be free to the public and include a 2,000-square-foot gallery, five classrooms, a restaurant and a museum shop.
Callie Johnson, Albright-Knox’s director of communications and community engagement, said the new civic space will anchor community engagement programming she hopes will be a catalyst in bringing a more diverse mix of people through the museum’s doors.
“When it opens, the Buffalo AKG will be a more welcoming and more accessible institution,” Johnson said. “Members of the public will be able to use the space and engage with the museum’s resources in a beautiful new structure that reflects the beauty of Delaware Park.”
The museum also announced that Charlie Garling has been hired as the director of learning and creativity. He will be responsible for developing and implementing new educational programing and outreach.
Garling was formerly director of studio programs at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News.