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Rockin'at the Knox: An opportunity for partiers to stop and smell the art

Just returned from Rockin’ at the Knox, that annual concert fundraiser for the museum that draws diverse populations from every walk of life for an evening of music, art, food, and merriment. Great evening. Perfect Buffalo weather for the event and the walk home down Elmwood Avenue. Other Spree contributors will no doubt review the music of Rufus Wainwright, The National, and other acts (who I admit I never actually listened to), but I want to take a moment to comment on an obvious but often overlooked collateral benefit of the evening. Thousands of people attend the massive parking-lot party, many of which never slap down the admission fee to visit the gallery any other time. In doing so they are inadvertently exposed to some of the finest modern and contemporary art the world has to offer. Spree readers know this of course, but I’m always stunned whenever I inquire among a gathered group of adults—especially young adults—how many have never been to the Albright-Knox. It’s more than you might imagine, and those who have been there, often say it was with a school group when they were kids.

These days, there’s always something new on the walls of the Knox. The curators don’t let anything gather dust in one place for long. On this fine evening, after hitting the sponsoring M&T tent for a couple summer-appropriate gin and tonics, I enter the spanking new Clifford Still exhibition on the second floor to check out the activity. Though it’s somewhat quiet at the moment inside the hallowed temple walls, a guard tells me it had been “crazy busy” earlier. The Still show is comprised of works from the museum’s collection by the notoriously reticent abstract expressionist, who befriended Seymour Knox in the nineteen-fifties culminating in the donation of thirty-one of his works to the museum. Added to the two the museum had already purchased, this makes it the largest collection of Still paintings in any institution anywhere. Still felt that his individual works could only be understood as part of a greater whole, and the large group on display here reflects a good cross-section of the painters’ career. Large, dramatic, and as abstract as art gets, Still’s work viewed together like this, packs a visceral punch for anyone open to experiencing it.

What’s got me thinking though, is how many people here on this evening of music and beer, might never otherwise experience Still’s work. Earlier they were streaming into this and the rest of the museum in droves. I stop to talk to one of the rent-a-guards from U.S. Securities the gallery hires for crowd control. Janet is her name, a woman of Spanish decent, who comments that she has passed the gallery hundreds, maybe thousands of times on her way to work, but never considered coming in. What does she think, I wonder, now that she is here? Her exact words escape me, but the gist of what she says is that it’s very cool, and she’ll likely come back now that she knows what the museum has to offer. Music to my ears rivaling anything on the stage.

So people come to Rockin’ at the Knox for the party, but stop and see the art. Some of them no doubt wouldn’t otherwise give the sometimes challenging work of Still and others a chance. But here, against a backdrop of music, booze, and cholesterol-laden food, they associate it with the hipster atmosphere of the evening, and it all must seem, well, pretty cool. Hopefully, like Janet the guard, many will return to take a second and third look. Maybe the Arshile Gorkys, Picassos, and Warhols will forever have a mental Rufus Wainwright soundtrack running in the minds of the viewers who first came upon them at this year’s Rockin’. But at least they’ll have seen them .

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