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The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is known for setting its sights on the future. Over the past decade, the local institution has rededicated itself to collecting work from the vanguard of contemporary art and reasserted its mission as a forward-looking museum.

But even the Albright-Knox can't help the occasional backward glance. Its new exhibition "Beauty, Life and Spirit: A Celebration of Greek Culture," the third in a series of collaborations with the Buffalo Museum of Science initiated in the wake of the museum's 2007 deaccession controversy, will do just that.

The show, mounted in the Gallery for Small Sculpture, will provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the ancient Greeks while illuminating the influence of that culture on modern and contemporary art.

Albright-Knox education curator Mariann Smith, who organized the exhibition at the request of the gallery's outgoing director, Louis Grachos, worked with Buffalo Museum of Science curator Kathryn Leacock to pore through the museum's substantial collection of ancient Greek objects. What Smith came up with was an exhibition that tries to draw some striking parallels between modern and ancient cultures.

"Many of the things they did, we still do: get married, have funeral ceremonies, that sort of thing," Smith said. "I wanted to show the differences between their lives and ours, but also the similarities."

The show includes sections on eating and drinking, vanity (including an ancient mirror and cosmetic holder), sports, hunting, weddings and funerals.

"There's two cases related to wine drinking -- that was an important part of Greek culture," Smith said. "There's even a section of little clay animals that were bought by parents for their children at festivals."

As in the two previous exhibitions in the series, the Albright-Knox has supplemented ancient material with objects from its own collection. "Beauty, Life and Spirit" contains a series of blue glass figures by Pablo Picasso titled "Nymphs and Satyrs," along with Nassos Daphnis' 1938 landscape of Greek women washing clothes in a river, Richard Hunt's 1956 sculpture "Icarus" and the abstract 1957 sculpture "Venus" by Carlo Sergio Signori.

Perhaps the focal point of the show is the Czech artist Jiri Kolar's 1976 sculpture "Cycladic Heads." That piece, recently featured in the gallery's show "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s," is a trio of head-shaped figures based on the Albright-Knox's own ancient Greek marble figure of a woman and overlayed with collages honoring Greek contributions to music, poetry, astrology and literature. It is placed on an Olympic-style pedestal, itself collaged with tributes to the Greeks' ingenuity and artistry.

Kolar's sculpture, included in an exhibition organized by the progressive Albright-Knox curator Charlotta Kotic in 1978, is an embodiment of the central theme behind the ongoing collaboration between the gallery and the science museum: that contemporary art is always engaged in a conversation with the past.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

"Beauty, Life, and Spirit: A Celebration of Greek Culture"    

WHEN: Today through April 21    

WHERE: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1300 Elmwood Ave.    

ADMISSION:$5 to $12    

INFO: 882-8700 or www.albrightknox.org