Buffalo museum, ready to expand, raises money at breakneck pace

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. will soon be called the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlac
In an undated handout photo, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. The institution will soon be called the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum to honor Jeffrey Gundlach, who is contributing $42.5 million for an expansion.
In an undated handout photo, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. The institution will soon be called the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum to honor Jeffrey Gundlach, who is contributing $42.5 million for an expansion.

Most museums take years to complete multimillion dollar fundraising campaigns, working laboriously to secure lead gifts and come up with the last dollar.

Now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, has introduced a new, unorthodox model. On Friday, the museum announced that — in less than 12 weeks — it had raised $103 million for its $125 million expansion to be designed by Rem Koolhaas’ firm, OMA, thanks to the largesse of Los Angeles financier Jeffrey Gundlach and the assistance of Amy Cappellazzo, a Sotheby’s chairwoman, who are both from Buffalo.

“It’s probably the fastest capital campaign in U.S. history,” said Janne Sirén, the gallery’s director. “It has certainly been a whirlwind.”

The museum will be renamed the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum, or the Buffalo AKG Art Museum.

“The museum should say Buffalo on it, for goodness sake,” said Gundlach, 56. “It’s probably the greatest cultural treasure in Buffalo.”

Gundlach, the chief executive and founder of DoubleLine Capital, with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1.7 billion, is contributing $42.5 million to the project. (The museum’s director says it is the city’s largest cultural gift from an individual.) Another $40.5 million has been raised from other private sources, along with $20 million from government, most of which is from New York state.

“From paying tribute to modern classics to showcasing Buffalo’s best, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has served as a renowned cultural institution in Western New York for generations,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This project is further proof of Western New York’s renaissance, and the state is proud to support this unique initiative which will benefit the entire region.”

Gundlach, having known Cappellazzo from her years as chairwoman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary-art department (he has a noteworthy modern and contemporary collection), enlisted her as his representative in structuring the deal, through her advisory firm, Art Agency Partners, a subsidiary of Sotheby’s.

“When I was young, I was dragged there,” he said of the museum. “I’ve always had a belief in and fondness for the Albright-Knox.”

“I wanted this project to succeed,” he added, “so I thought, I know how we can do it, but it will take somebody to show up and to really motivate giving.”

Gundlach had not been a major contributor to the gallery in the past or a particularly big supporter of any other museum — in part, because he said he was waiting for the opportunity to have a significant impact on an institution that really needs his help.

“I tend to do things, not with teaspoons, but to try to make a difference,” he said. “Let’s say I gave $42.5 million to the Met; you wouldn’t be able to find it with a microscope.”

The Albright-Knox doesn’t even have a loading dock, and its lively collection of more than 7,000 modern and contemporary works, from Monet to Warhol, has quadrupled since its Gordon Bunshaft-designed addition opened in 1962. Its 1905 Greek Revival building — completed too late to serve its original purpose as the fine arts pavilion of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition — was designed by Edward B. Green.

“They need more space more than anything else,” Gundlach said. “Their holdings are incredible in terms of the quality.”

Raising money for an expansion was going to be a heavy lift for a museum with a modest operating budget of about $9 million in a Rust Belt city; the Buffalo News called it “daunting.”

“Few corporate headquarters remain here,” the paper said in June. “The resources of city foundations are already stretched thin. The ranks of local philanthropists have thinned, and their pockets aren’t as deep as they once were.”

Still, Gundlach wanted the museum’s board to also step up, along with local government and other individuals, foundations and corporations.

“It’s a community project,” he said. “I think other interested parties should show their commitment. Let Buffalo flex its muscle a little bit.”

So Gundlach established a match of $1.50 for every dollar raised from individuals, foundations and corporations from a baseline of $10 million up to $30 million; and $1.25 for every dollar raised from government from a baseline of $10 million up to $20 million.

He also insisted on fastracking the process so it would be “basically wrapped up by Labor Day, because these things lose momentum,” Gundlach said. “I didn’t want another wide right field goal from Buffalo. I wanted it to be, ‘Wow, that was successful in a hurry.’” (Gundlach unsuccessfully tried to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014.)

Having selected the architect Shohei Shigematsu of OMA in June, and having expected not to start its capital campaign until September, the museum suddenly had to hustle to raise money during the summer — when donors can be hard to reach — beginning with its 32 board members, who Sirén said, ultimately ponied up $20.9 million.

The original fundraising goal for the project was $80 million, but the museum increased that to help build its operating endowment, which stands at $37 million. “We would like to see that double,” said Sirén, formerly director of the Helsinki Art Museum, who took the Albright-Knox helm in 2013.

Gundlach said he hoped the expanded museum would be part of a resurgence underway in Buffalo. “Our hope is we get the Bilbao effect here, to create a destination,” he said, referring to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Spain. “It’s a world-class museum in terms of its holdings. Hopefully, it will become a world-class location.”

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