The Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue is home to an important collection of modern art. Even if you’re not into art, the building housing the art is worth a visit on its own. It was the last completed project by Frank Lloyd Wright before he died in 1959.
The building was commissioned in 1943 by Solomon R. Guggenheim for his collection of modern art. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most acclaimed architect, spent more than a decade tweaking his design for the museum until construction finally started in 1956. By that time, Guggenheim had already passed away, but he had bequeathed two million dollars for the construction of the museum. The museum opened three years later, in 1959.
The museum building is an eye-catching structure that completely ignores its urban context. Throughout his career, Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs had been inspired by nature, and this building was no exception. The organic spiral shape is said to embody the natural shapes found in Central Park across the street. Due to its unconventional shape, the soft white colored building stands out and even in a landmark-filled city like New York, it continues to attract the attention of passersby.
Inside, the spiral rotunda is flooded with daylight thanks to a large glass dome. Wright intended visitors to take the elevator and start walking down the 400-meter-long spiraling ramp, but you are free to walk up as well.
In 1992, the museum was expanded with a nine-story annex designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s original drawings.
Art & Architecture
Some see the museum as one of the less successful architectural realizations of Frank Lloyd Wright. The main criticism was that the shape of the building did not suit its purpose. Due to its organic shape, visitors walk through a part of the museum in an upward (or downward) spiral, which means the artwork is always viewed from an angle. The walls are also relatively low for a museum, which prevents some paintings from being properly displayed. Wright’s own comment on this was that the paintings had to be cut in half!.
The 1992 expansion partially solved this problem, since visitors can now leave the ramp on each floor and visit a room in the new building, where the floors are level.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum houses some fine collections of world-famous painters like Picasso, Chagall, Kandinsky, and many other modern artists. The major part of the collection consists of paintings, but sculptures and photos are also on display in the museum.
The collection was started by Solomon R. Guggenheim in the late 1920s. In 1937, he founded the Museum of Nonobjective painting, located on East 54th street. It later moved to its present location near Central Park. The collection was expanded several times. In 1976, an important collection of paintings by Gauguin, Picasso, van Gogh and many others were donated by Justin K. Thannhauser. In 1990, more than two hundred works of American Minimalist art were added to the collection.