For the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 2012 has been a year of monumental celebration and change.

The gallery, which officially marked the 150th anniversary of its founding on Tuesday, is preparing for the departure of director Louis Grachos at the end of the year and the arrival of his yet-to-be announced successor shortly thereafter. The gallery has hosted a trio of ambitious exhibitions celebrating its accomplishments across the past century and a half – “The Long Curve,” “Wish You Were Here” and the ongoing “Decade,” which runs through Jan. 6.

This week, the gallery unveiled one last project meant to commemorate its 150th. “Universals Albright-Knox 150,” a participatory art project featuring 150 distinct paintings commissioned by the gallery and spearheaded by the artistic team of Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, has been on view in the gallery since Tuesday. The artists will give a talk at 7 tonight in one of many events during the gallery’s free M&T First Fridays program, running from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today.

For the exhibition, the gallery chose 150 Western New Yorkers to participate in the early stages of the team’s artistic process in May. Each participant filled out a questionnaire, chose a color scheme and certain other visual elements and were interviewed and observed by the artists. Later, the artists created 150 unique paintings made with pure pigment airbrushed across a piece of paper, each one based at least in part on a single participant.

The paintings will be incorporated into a sculpture that the artistic team will complete and the gallery will acquire in 2014. It’s part of the ongoing “Universals” project, which aims to unite “the museum, the community, and artistic methodology in a context of participation, exchange, and collective creation.”

Albright-Knox curator Holly E. Hughes, who oversaw the project, said that it deals with notions of identity. It echoes other participatory projects the Albright-Knox has commissioned, including Byron Kim’s 2008 piece “Synechdoche,” which was based on the skin tones of the gallery’s board members and serves as a kind of commentary on race.

“They’re really exploring identity and the concept that someone’s identity isn’t just their face. It’s their gestures, it’s the jewelry they wore that day,” Hughes said. “If it’s a woman, what color [are] her nails painted? If it’s a man, does he wear his watch on his right-hand side or his left-hand side? It’s about that signature. It’s about every detail of our being that makes us who we are.”

Beyond merely creating representative abstract paintings based on input from participants, the project explores the notion of collaboration – what it means to fold the experience of another person, or an entire group of people, into your own. And it’s also an argument for a new kind of abstraction, Hughes said, and about where the abstract art form goes from here.

The First Friday event also features art classes for kids, tours and an 8:30 p.m. concert with the Albrights for $10.


What: “Universals Albright-Knox 150”

When: Through Dec. 30

Where: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.

Tickets: Free today, otherwise $5 to $12

Info: 882-8700 or