With the Guggenheim, Frank Lloyd Wright Built a Soaring and Intimate Sanctuary for Art

Just before he died, the architect created a spiraling city square that elevates the work it houses.

Featured on nytimes.com

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is still a shock on Fifth Avenue. The architecture declines to fade into the background or get old, never mind the building turns 60 this month.

Happy birthday to one of modern architecture’s transcendent achievements! Its spiral ramp has defeated generations of curators trying to figure out how to install exhibitions on it. The building has gone through ham-fisted additions, hostile restorations, lousy paint jobs and too many bad imitations to count.

But it endures everything, a testament to what the critic Ada Louise Huxtable once called its “unified space and structure.”

Neither Wright nor the man who commissioned him to design the building, Solomon R. Guggenheim, saw it finished. Guggenheim had died a decade earlier, Wright shortly before the building opened. He was 91.

The two of them cooked up a plan for the museum back in the mid-1940s; it was to be a purpose-built container for Guggenheim’s private collection of Non-Objective art. Under the spell of a German baroness and abstract painter named Hilla Rebay, Guggenheim had amassed a vast collection of Kandinskys and Arps — and Rebays — which Rebay had persuaded Guggenheim could conjure up a new, elevated reality.

Such lofty art naturally demanded a home befitting its spiritual potential — a temple, in effect, that was itself pure, abstract and uplifting. To an evangelist and egomaniac like Wright, the assignment seemed karmic.

It also partly explains why the museum lacked traditional galleries and made little allowance for the sort of back-of-house accommodations museums typically need. There was next to no room in the plan for storage, although room was allotted for two apartments, one for Solomon Guggenheim, the other for Rebay.

Click here to read the full article.