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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Guggenheim--New York

Wright's masterpiece close-up.
In doing my homework for our trip to Venice I was studying the Peggy Guggenheim Museum there (formerly her villa) at which time I realized that of all the great art museums I've written about, including the Guggenheim Bilbao (09-21-12), I'd never covered the "granddaddy" of them all, Wright's swirling Fifth Avenue creation in New York City. In discussing the Guggenheim, I'm torn between talking about the museum itself, its holdings, or its creation. I've already written about its progenitor, Solomon Guggenheim and his niece, Peggy (06-29-11), and the inimitable Mr. Wright (01-12-12), so there's not a lot left to be said (by me, at least) as to background.

The Guggenheim as originally built 1956-59.
Speaking of backgrounds, the museum itself now has a new (as of 1992, that is) background designed by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel, a ten-story, 51,000 square foot rectilinear limestone tower which effectively blocks the cacophony of Manhattan skyscrapers which previously cluttered the landscape. Though some objected to the dramatic departure from Wright's organic structure, none have been as vehement as those Wright encountered himself in his conception of the original museum. The tower with additional gallery space and offices does not compete with Wright's design but accentuates it by its contrasting simplicity.

The Guggenheim today. Now if someone could
just find a way to remove the intrusive lamp pole...
Though considered by many as the crowning achievement of Wright's career (he died shortly before it was completed) what has now become a New York cultural landmark was by no means an "easy sell." First commissioned in 1943, the design went through thirteen years of often acrimonious design negotiations between the notoriously cantankerous architect, the Guggenheims, and their foundation before construction finally began in 1956. Even after it opened in 1959, New York art critics found it difficult to accept a building more iconic than the art it contained. Wright insisted the building be as modern as its art, an organic space designed to compliment the art. Critics claimed it competed with the art. Ironically, both were correct, which in retrospect seems a rather meaningless controversy.
Wright's creation is as spectacular inside as outside.
Inside is the art, works dating back to the birth of Modern Art with the late 19th century impressionists up through the formative years of the early 20th century to cutting edge 21st century exhibitions as fresh as tomorrow. In listing the names of iconic painters and sculptors from the past century of Modern Art, it would seem easier to name those not included in the Guggenheim collection, except that, actually, I can't think of any. Basically, if the Guggenheim doesn't have it, MoMA does. What MoMA doesn't have is Frank Lloyd Wright. His downward spiral of sloping galleries is worth the cost of admission (Adults--$22, Seniors--$18, children under 12--free) with the art simply an extra, added bonus. I know, that's not the way it's supposed to work, but if it takes a spectacular museum to bring people to see its art, this may be one instance when the end justifies the means.




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