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Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York

Architecture, 1959

Description of the artwork «Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York»

In June 1943, 76-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright received a letter from Hilla Rebay, art adviser to the industrialist and philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim. She asked the architect to design a new museum to house a collection of abstract works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky,Paul Klee and Pete Mondriancollected by her patron. At the same time, the customer wanted the building to not look like any gallery in the world.

The rebuy wanted the museum to become a “temple of the spirit,” which would allow a fresh look at contemporary works. “Each of these great masterpieces must be organized in space, and only you [...] have proven your ability to do this. I want a temple of the spirit, a monument! ”She wrote to Wright. And although he has already become famous as an outstanding American architect of the 20th century, this proposal was another take-off point in his career.

Guggenheim chose New York to accommodate his space - and Wright did not hide his disappointment with this decision. “I can offer several more attractive places in the world for the construction of his great museum, - wrote the architect in 1949. - But we have to try New York. ". Wright considered the city too built up, overpopulated and devoid of architectural merits. Nevertheless, he fulfilled the client’s wish.

After approximately 700 sketches and six separate sets of working drawings, the project was approved. Wright's original concept was called the “inverted ziggurat,” because it resembled the steep steps of the buildings of ancient Mesopotamia. The plan for the new space dispensed with the traditional installation of museum design that visitors should go through a series of interconnected halls. Instead, the architect decided that the guests would take the elevator to the upper floor, slowly descend the gentle slope, viewing the paintings, and then the atrium of the building as the last work of art. The open rotunda provided the audience with a unique opportunity to see several fragments of the exposition at different levels simultaneously.

After a long search for a suitable location, it was decided to build a museum on Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets. The proximity of the site to Central Park became a key argument - it freed from city noise and fuss, and also allowed Wright to incorporate his favorite organic forms into architecture. The urban landscape required the architect to design the building in a vertical rather than horizontal form, which was very different from his previous country houses. However, Wright’s design also reflects his view of the rigid geometry of modernist architecture.

The architect attached symbolic importance to the building forms. He explained: “These geometric forms imply certain human ideas, moods, feelings. For example, a circle is infinity; triangle - structural unity; spiral - organic progress; square - integrity ”. Shapes reflect each other everywhere, for example, oval columns repeat the geometry of the fountain. Roundness is a keynote, from the rotunda to the mosaic terrazzo on the floors. Some experts believe that the double spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo in the Vatican Museums in 1932 served as a source of inspiration for the ramp and Wright's atrium.

The facade of the building for the sake of economy is made of concrete, although Wright build it from stone and paint it red. The small rotunda (or “Monitor”) next to the large rotunda was intended to house the apartments of Hilla Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim, but instead was given over to offices and storage. In 1965, the second floor of the “Monitor” was renovated to demonstrate a constantly growing collection, and after the restoration of the museum in 1990-92, the building was completely transferred to the exhibition space and named after Tannhauser - a large collector who bequeathed his collection to the museum.

Wright’s original plan to place artists' workshops and apartments in the adjoining tower remained unrealized, mainly for financial reasons. The new museum also had a glazed roof, which put an end to Wright's elaborate lighting effects. It was restored to its original form only in 1992.

From the street, the museum looks like a white ribbon wrapped around a cone, expanding upward. Its appearance contrasts sharply with typical rectangular Manhattan buildings around. Wright liked this very much, who claimed that next to his brainchild, the Metropolitan Museum of Art would "resemble a Protestant barn."

Even before its opening, the museum divided architectural critics into two warring camps. Some claimed that the building itself would eclipse the works stored in it. “On the contrary, design makes building and painting a continuous beautiful symphony like never before in the world of art”- the architect answered them. Others - including many artists - believed that it would not be possible to correctly hang pictures in shallow concave exhibition niches without windows surrounding the central spiral. Before the opening of the museum, twenty-one authors signed a letter protesting against showing their works in such a space.

However, on October 21, 1959 - ten years after the death of Solomon Guggenheim and six months after the death of Frank Lloyd Wright - the museum first opened its doors to the general public. Its design freed museum architecture from its conservative limitations, created a powerful precedent and inspired many architects.

In August 1990, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was officially declared a landmark in New York. This is the "youngest" building that has received such recognition.

Over the 60 years of its existence, the building has been restored several times. Between 1990 and 1992, a new wing was added with four additional exhibition galleries and two storey floors. In 2008, the museum completed a three-year renovation, preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In July 2019, the building - along with seven other works of Frank Lloyd Wright - was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Author: Vlad Maslov
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About the artwork

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Art form: Architecture

Style of art: Constructivism

Date of creation: 1959

Location: USA

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