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Q&A: Making room for more art

Five years ago, Janne Sirén moved from Finland to take over as director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. There’s been a flurry of activity since, including the largest single private donation ever given to a Buffalo cultural institution: $42.5 million. That and additional funds will support a major expansion project to house the museum’s growing collection.

You’ve done an incredible job raising the money needed to expand and seal the future of the gallery. What’s that experience been like?

The Albright-Knox’s Campus Development and Expansion Project, which we are calling AK360, is a team effort. It really is an honor and a privilege to be part of an endeavor that will benefit our entire community. AK360 has also enabled me to connect with many extraordinary people.

Why is art so important to our local culture?

Art is a mirror of our past and a beacon for our future. It tells us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Art defines and shapes our humanity.

Favorite piece of art at the gallery?

I don’t have one favorite, but there are many artists whose work I greatly admire: Clyfford Still, Marisol, and Mark Bradford, among others.

What upcoming exhibit are you most excited about?

I am really excited about two of our current exhibitions, one dedicated to Robert Indiana and the other, entitled “Giant Steps,” to pioneering artists active in the 1960s. I am of course very much looking forward to “We the People: New Art from the Collection.” This exhibition, which I have co-organized with Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan, explores common themes in a selection of works that the Albright-Knox has acquired over the past five years.

What do you say to people who say they don’t “get” modern art?

Give it a chance! It might change your life and may help you better understand the world we live in.

Advice to parents for fostering a love of art in their children?

The act of “markmaking” — drawing or even just doodling things — is an ancient human endeavor. Long before farming or the first alphabet were invented, our ancestors were making marks on various surfaces. Parents should encourage their children to draw and to create artworks of their own. Artmaking and markmaking are essential to being human.

Favorite non-art-related things to do?

Running, swimming, diving, downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking and bicycling. I also enjoy cooking.

You’ve been in Buffalo for five years now. What things do you like best, and what could use a little love?

I love Buffalo in all its aspects. I think all communities can benefit from exercising the art of empathy at certain times, but this observation is really more universal than city-specific.

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