Collector David Anderson—whose family has long been connected with the New York and Paris art worlds—provides an unprecedented opportunity for the university, its students and Western New York
Historical photos courtesy of the Anderson Gallery
Contemporary photos by Frank Miller
Growing up in New York City in the 1940s, David Anderson didn’t have much interest in abstract art—even though his mother, Buffalo native Martha Jackson, would soon own one of Manhattan’s leading art galleries for abstract expressionist works. Then one night in 1951 in his mother’s living room, he settled down to read a high school science textbook—his favorite subject—across the room from a Willem de Kooning painting titled Night Square. “Normally I would have no problem jumping into that book and not coming up for air for a couple of hours,” Anderson says. “This night I was sitting there, and this painting kept dragging my eye out of the book to look at it. It’s nothing but some white lines on a black surface, very squiggly, a little bit of red. I started asking myself, ‘Hey, what’s going on here? Why is this happening to me?’”
It was then that Anderson began a lifelong love of art that would see him chart his own career in the contemporary art world, become a gallery owner, art dealer and collector, and with his gift of The Anderson Gallery and its collection to UB, a major benefactor of the university and the Western New York community.
Anderson's gift, valued at $6 million, includes a state-of-the-art exhibition space in Buffalo's University Heights district. The Anderson Gallery, a renovated elementary school, opened in 1991 at One Martha Jackson Place (off Englewood Avenue), showcasing a unique family and artistic heritage. The gift also comprises substantial portions of both Martha Jackson's and Anderson's private collections, and includes works by some of the leading artists of the abstract expressionist movement.
According to Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School Kerry S. Grant, the gift provides an unprecedented opportunity for the university, its students and Western New York.
"First of all, it presents a focused collection of a major period of American art, which allows us to offer a special area of study," says Grant. "And it gives us a recently reconstructed facility made to the best of American museum standards."
Thanks to Anderson's generosity, UB will soon be in the forefront of the nation's graduate programs in museum and curatorial studies. Of the new program, Grant says, "It's a key contribution to UB's profile nationally and internationally. Museum studies programs are rare. They require special resources and a commitment by the institution to the students and the community. This gift will considerably enhance the reputation of arts programs at UB."
Based in the art history department, the new program will be strongly interdisciplinary, drawing support and expertise from fine arts, anthropology, education, business and library science. This multidisciplinary approach is exactly what Anderson had in mind for UB's students. "I'd like students to be able to experience every job in the gallery, from the craftspeople who make frames, to handling, packing and shipping artworks, to being registrar, identifying and describing different artworks. I'd like it to be a hands-on experience," he says.
It was precisely this rare combination of business acumen and art appreciation that Anderson himself brought to gallery management in 1957 when, only one semester before graduating from UB with a degree in business administration, he returned to New York to work in his mother's gallery.
"I had some skills in accounting, business organization and business law that filled a niche in her gallery," says Anderson. He wrote most of the contracts with artists, which were then reviewed by the gallery's attorneys. He also developed most of the management systems used in the Martha Jackson Gallery and later in his own galleries. "Good record-keeping is essential," he maintains. "Many dealers were notoriously disorganized. I know of many instances where paintings would fall between the cracks, so to speak, and end up in a dealer's warehouse without being noticed."
The gift also makes UB one of the few universities to have two fine art galleries-one in the Center for the Arts on the North Campus, and The Anderson Gallery near the South Campus. Having two working galleries gives UB the necessary space for both training and exhibitions. It also allows the university to mount a wider variety of exhibitions, and permits near-continuous exhibitions, as one gallery's show can be up while the other gallery "goes dark" between exhibits.
This dual-gallery approach also parallels Anderson's career as a gallery owner. After working closely with his mother, in 1959 he opened the David Anderson Gallery downstairs from the Martha Jackson Gallery. Devoted to works on paper, the gallery played a leading role in establishing a market for original fine art prints, often showing prints by artists who had paintings on display upstairs in his mother's gallery.
In 1961, Anderson moved to Paris, where with Jack Mayer he opened the Galerie Anderson Mayer on the city's Left Bank. Once again working in cooperation with his mother, Anderson brought works by American artists to Paris. Despite the resistance of French critics, the gallery helped establish American art and artists in Europe. At the same time, Anderson was scouring Paris for artworks that might be sold in his mother's gallery in New York.
He returned to New York in 1967 and again worked with his mother at the Martha Jackson Gallery until her unexpected death two years later. After her death, he continued the gallery's tradition of contemporary exhibitions, remaining loyal to the artists whose careers were so closely entwined with his mother's and his own. In the following years, he also made a series of philanthropic gifts from his mother's collection, including a significant 1974 donation to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where his mother had pursued her early interest in art.
Then, in 1979, a desire to raise his two teenage sons closer to extended family brought Anderson and his wife Becky back to Buffalo, where his father and many members of his mother's family still lived. He ran the New York gallery from his home in Buffalo, eventually deciding to establish the Anderson Gallery in Buffalo and move his collection here.
Though far from the glittering New York art scene, Western New York has a remarkably rich art heritage and thriving arts community, from the world-renowned modern art collection at the Albright-Knox to many smaller galleries and museums with a wide variety of collections, fine art and historical, cultural and scientific objects. Through Anderson's important gift, UB is now also uniquely positioned to work with these local cultural institutions to foster greater local appreciation for the arts and to make many of the items in these collections accessible to the public, some for the first time.
Olsen's experience is uniquely suited to Anderson's collection in another way. Before coming to Western New York, she was a curatorial assistant in the Prints and Drawings department at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she gained extensive experience with works on paper, which she calls her "first love." In addition to her curatorial experience, she earned a doctorate in art history from Boston University, studying the works of the late-nineteenth-century Belgian printmaker F‚licien Rops. She also has master's degrees in art history and education.
Olsen, who calls The Anderson Gallery and collection "a museum studies laboratory," is enthusiastic about her new position. "It's wonderful of Mr. Anderson to recognize the potential and give a gift that enables UB to coordinate its own resources with the rich resources of this community," says Olsen. "It's a terrific opportunity. I'm very honored to be entrusted with pulling all this together."
Even before Anderson's generous gift to the university, the breathtaking gallery on Martha Jackson Place made many important and beautiful artworks accessible to the community. When pressed, Anderson himself offers some valuable tips for gaining a deeper appreciation of the works displayed there and in fine galleries around the world.
"When you're confronted with a painting, look at it," he advises. "Walk right up to it. Wander through the painting. Then back up and do this again and again. Make a list describing what you see. Then do it with another painting and another and another. When you have a few pages of lists, then you can compare. You'll start to understand the structure of each painting. You'll see what one artist always leaves out, and what another artist always includes."
This method, which he compares to the scientific method of describing things, was exactly the technique he used on that night, years ago, when a seemingly simple painting on his mother's living room wall caught his eye and opened up a rich and beautiful new world.
And what happened to the de Kooning painting that first inspired his love of art? Says Anderson, "It was the sale of that painting that enabled me to build the gallery in Buffalo."
Blair Boone, Ph.D. '84, is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.