The Guggenheim Museum in New York

Photo of The Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York
Photo of The Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York
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The Guggenheim Museum
Official name:The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Formerly:The Museum of Non-Objective Painting

1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, Upper East Side
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It's not unusual for architects to try to design art museums that are works of art, themselves. It seems to make sense, and affords them an opportunity to showcase their talents on a building that will be seen by millions as a landmark regardless of how it looks. This is one of the fortunate cases where it worked. Celebrity architect Frank Lloyd Wright was approached by Solomon R. Guggenheim's art advisor in 1943 and asked to create a building that would stir the soul.

Designing an art museum seems like an easy enough task -- there's not much in the way of plumbing to worry about. Exterior windows are generally frowned upon. And even if the building is ugly, people will still use it because they're there to see the art. The challenge for Wright was to create a place that could showcase art without detracting from it. That could incorporate natural light without harming the objects. That would welcome the masses, but still present a formal presence that says, "look, but don't touch."

Wright is well known for his houses. His work in bucolic settings like Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and southwest Pennsylvania are legendary. Taking on a project in what was then the nation's most populous city was not something he relished. In fact, Wright hated New York, especially its architecture, and made no secret of it. But he ended up giving the city, and the world an architectural form that would be copied for decades.

The museum is an upside-down spiral; a ziggurat, it has been suggested. Its facade is clean and white, and the gaps between levels absorb the light into darkness. These contrasting bands of white and black will be repeated in skyscrapers and office buildings long after his death. The building's exterior is both Spartan and intriguing at the same time. It contrasts with the square forms around it. And though visitors might regard it as a bit bland, those same visitors should be delighted to find that they are able to view the entire art collection without interruption. Instead of the art being hemmed in by traditional galleries, visitors can meander down the spiral slope while viewing the works.

It's a system that solves a long-standing problem in the art world -- how to immerse the viewer in the art without distracting them with the mundanities of walking through a building. In this case, the galleries are wedge-shaped affairs that encourage people to explore the art while unconsciously exploring the building.

Quick Facts
    "I need a fighter, a lover of space, an agitator, a tester and a wise man...I want a temple of spirit, a monument!"
    -Hilla Rebay, Guggenheim art advisor, 1943
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There are three comments.

  An amazing building, both outside and inside. Frank Lloyd Wright was brilliant.

Don Borgerson - Friday, November 14th, 2008 @ 11:58pm  


Colleen Murphy - Thursday, November 4th, 2004 @ 3:41pm  

  Such a wonderful building.

Ben Miller - Saturday, September 25th, 2004 @ 3:05pm