Tonawanda News

June 2, 2013

Janne Sirén takes over as the Albright-Knox's director

By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — For Janne Sirén, his appointment as director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo is a change from his homeland of Finland, and a familiar return to America.

Sirén, who replaced outgoing director Louis Grachos in early April, now runs what many consider to be one of the greatest repositories of modern art in the world.

“There are thousands of museums of modern and contemporary art in the world. We rate in the top ten in terms of collection. We have a robust acquisition budget that enables us to grow,” Sirén said.

At age 42, Sirén is tall and strong, a product of morning jogs and time as an Airborne Ranger in Finland’s armed forces, and he likes Buffalo.

“The ethnic restaurants ... New York (City) would be hard to display something like this, a new, emerging ethnic culture.”

He’s also a hockey fan, and says he’s a friend of Buffalo’s other celebrated Finnish import, Teppo Numinen.

His wife, Sonja, and their three children will arrive after the school year ends in Finland, but for now, Sirén is looking for a place to live and looking forward to commanding a museum whose mission he admires.

“This is everybody’s museum, and they should be proud of it. It has programs like Art Alive (wherein local students and other residents depict themselves as famed works of art on the Albright-Knox lawn, this year on June 1) and M&T First Fridays (a monthly nighttime event of concerts and hands-on immersion in art), a great roster of events that should open the museum to all audiences. For people from all parts of town, this is their common living room,” he said.

More so than sports or cuisine, art can build bridges, Sirén said.

“The Pollock (Jackson Pollock’s massive 1952 painting ‘Convergence,’ which the Albright-Knox owns and proudly displays near its front door) today is a modern classic. Sixty years ago it was radical. A work of art is like a book. It’s a reading process. It takes time, and you’re not going to like every book in the library. We are attentive to many audiences, and we honor diversity,” Sirén said.

Sitting at a table in a modernist Albright-Knox conference room, Sirén looks the part, a young globetrotter wizened in the world of international art who grew up in Finland and Switzerland, with three college degrees from two American universities, College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and New York University.

“I’ve interfaced with publics in seven different countries. I’ve seen a lot of diversity and rich history. (The museums) mirror the community,” he said.

Of his new appointment, Sirén says “there is more objective decision-making” than at his previous position as director of the Helsinki Art Museum in Finland. 

“There are thousands of artists around the world. The range of options is galactic, and I’m privileged to have world-class people working here,” he said, adding the Albright-Knox does it “with a much smaller staff — 70 people — than in Helsinki.”

Sirén evidently likes what he’s gotten into. Introduced to an audience at a jazz concert in the Albright-Knox auditorium several weeks ago — yes, they present jazz in there, too — he said the right things, then endeared himself by dancing across the stage.

The museum has had only eleven directors in its 151-year history. While the position is not lifetime, directors are expected to leave a mark on the collection and the community (previous director Grachos, before leaving for Austin, Texas, certainly did), and Sirén seems poised for something big here. 

With the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, something big tends to be a part of the mission.