In 2007, a few years after joining the Albright-Knox, director Louis Grachos began an ambitious deaccessioning program. Out went the Shang dynasty bronze vessel ($8.1 million) and the Roman bronze figure of Artemis and the Stag (over $28 million), along with other antiquities and works of Indian, African, South American and ancient Roman art. In came Tom Sach’s Trojan, Jim Hodge’s Look and See and Mona Hatoum’s + and -, as well as work by other major contemporary artists, like Tracey Emin and Rachel Whiteread.
“Decade: Contemporary Collecting 2002-2012,” an exhibition that opens Aug. 21, argues that Mr. Grachos’s tenure marked an era of aggressive, ambitious collecting, and is the third in a trio of exhibitions that began in November 2011 in celebration of the gallery’s 150th anniversary. The first in the series, “The Long Curve,” explored the work from the museum’s founding in 1862 through the 1960s. The second, “Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-Garde in the 1970s,” explored the heady experimental period that saw daring work from film, video and performance artists, who often worked in or visited Buffalo. “Decade” brings the institution’s story up to the present day.
“The exhibition in a nutshell celebrates the high-octane tenure of Louis Grachos,” said the museum’s chief curator, Douglas Dreishpoon, who organized the show along with Mr. Grachos and curator Heather Pesanti. “We’ve collected at a very accelerated, quick rate and very aggressively. ‘Decade’ is the fruit of the de-accessioning project.” In conjunction with the show there will also be a weekend gathering in October with lectures and panel discussions and performances by art collective Gelitin and artists Janine Antoni and John Bock.
What does the unpredictable Mr. Bock have in the works? “There’s so much about painting in it,” Mr. Dreishpoon said. “He puts Pepto-Bismol on his foot. He’s painting with his feet, but not really.” The Pepto-Bismol stunt, a parody of Pollock, was the reference that “hooked” them on the artist. His upcoming performance is derived from the 2008 work Urhutte (“primitive hut”), which the Albright-Knox acquired. “He’s the contemporary Joseph Beuys,” he added. “He travels with a little suitcase.”
Ms. Antoni—who’s probably best known for Chocolate Gnaw (1992), for which she shaped a 600-pound block of chocolate by gnawing on it—is also looking to the museum’s collection for inspiration. She has collaborated with dancer and choreographer Jill Sigman on a dance piece that they will perform within one of the lower galleries, surrounded by Clyfford Still paintings.
As for Gelitin, an Austrian art collective famed for performances involving cross-dressing and nudity, they’ll be doing a newly commissioned work. “It’s up in the air,” said Ms. Pesanti. Where it will be depends on how messy the artists want it to be. The museum owns a work from the group’s 2009 exhibition at Greene Naftali, “Blind Sculpture,” in which the members, dressed in odd outfits, installed themselves in the gallery space with a slew of materials and went about creating things from the materials they had, with the help of volunteers from the audience.
The weekend will also include a sound installation by Susan Philipsz based on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in the museum’s Gordon Bunshaft–designed auditorium.
Most importantly, this show will give you a glimpse of how the Albright-Knox has used its acquisitions fund to collect new work, and push off in a new direction. “It’s exciting, glamorous and cutting edge,” Ms. Pesanti said about the museum’s new course, noting it will take some time to sink in. “When you try to change the tides of perception, it’s like a boat, not like a car that turns quickly.”