Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

guggenheim

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is an art museum located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States. It is the permanent home to a renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the 20th century’s most important architectural landmarks. It is located at the corners of 89th Street and Fifth Avenue (overlooking Central Park). It opened in October of 1959, ten years after the death of Solomon Guggenheim and six months after the death of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Solomon Guggenheim, mining magnate, began to collect works by nonobjective artists in 1929. To him, the word ‘nonobjective’ signified the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction. Guggenheim first began to show his work from his apartment, and as the collection grew, he established The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937.

In 1939, the Guggenheim Foundation’s first museum, ‘The Museum of Non-Objective Painting,’ opened in rented quarters at 24 East Fifty-Fourth Street in New York and showcased art by early modernists such as Rudolf Bauer, Hilla Rebay, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian. During the life of Guggenheim’s first museum, Guggenheim continued to add to his collection, acquiring paintings by Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso.

The collection quickly outgrew its original space, so in 1943, Guggenheim wrote a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright pleading him to design a permanent structure for the collection. It took Wright 15 years, 700 sketches, and six sets of working drawings to create the museum.

The distinctive building, Wright’s last major work, instantly polarized architecture critics upon completion, though today it is widely revered. From the street, the building looks like a white ribbon curled into a cylindrical stack, slightly wider at the top than the bottom. Its appearance is in sharp contrast to the more typically boxy Manhattan buildings that surround it, a fact relished by Wright who claimed that his museum would make the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art ‘look like a Protestant barn.’

Internally, the viewing gallery forms a gentle helical spiral from the main level up to the top of the building. Paintings are displayed along the walls of the spiral and also in exhibition space found at annex levels along the way.

Most of the criticism of the building has focused on the idea that it overshadows the artworks displayed within, and that it is particularly difficult to properly hang paintings in the shallow windowless exhibition niches that surround the central spiral. The walls of the niches are neither vertical nor flat (most are gently concave), meaning that canvasses must be mounted proud of the wall’s surface. The limited space within the niches means that sculptures are generally relegated to plinths amid the main spiral walkway itself.

Prior to its opening, twenty-one artists, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, signed a letter protesting the display of their work in such a space.

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