Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Wright Stuff

Today began with a trip to the Guggenheim museum - a members only early opening - so the atmosphere inside was calm and unhurried. The current exhibit is all about Frank Lloyd Wright, culminating in his designs for the Guggenheim itself. To review his many plans for public buildings of all kinds, which is the emphasis of this exhibition, is to revisit how staggeringly visionary his architecture was. He was so far ahead of his time, so unlike his colleagues, that many regarded him as a dangerous radical who must be marginalized. Apparently, he was banned from exhibiting at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933, owing to this reputation for going too far, and was often prevented from following through on projects, as so many conventional designers doubted his plans could be realized. In fact, because so much of his most inventive work never materialized, the word that best sums up the Guggenheim show is "unbuilt," displayed again and again in parentheses alongside his designs. This includes, by the way, his plans for a mile-high skyscraper, a building that would have had something like 550 storeys! Not sure if it's good or bad that it went unbuilt, but it does boggle the mind just to think about the daring of a man who would seriously propose such a thing. Let me add with oceans of self-importance that without Wright the house of the cartoon characters The Jetsons is simply unimaginable.

And, fortunately, we do have the Guggenheim, this glorious structure completely restored, looking as fresh and unscathed as it did back in 1959, when it was first opened. As many people visit the Guggenheim, I assume, to see what Wright so ingeniously designed as they do to view the art that is shown there. And now, especially as a result of this restoration, they do not go away disappointed. Every curve in the walls, every extension of the overhangs, every turn in the seating areas on the ground level, even every light fixture seems to be carefully thought out to create this integrated, incredibly welcoming space. Interestingly, the Guggenheim has become a popular nightspot for young people (and an occasional oldster) on Friday evenings. Part of the appeal, of course, is the cash bar and the live music, but there is something about that enormous, perfectly proportioned atrium that draws people in and, well, makes them feel good. In any case, it is a great building and it is wonderful to know that it will be around for a very long time to come.


  1. Growing up in the Prairie state we were never far from FLW, literally as one of his Prairie houses was just a couple of blocks away. I knew his name and his fame before I was 10. While I'm not sure I have the specific memory, I know that we visited the Guggenheim during our spring break family trip at Easter time in 1963. I'm sure there are minox photos somewhere....I do remember that it was a thrill. I've gone out of may way to see his work, including Taliesin West in AZ and Falling Water and Kentuck Knob in PA and others. I'm always surprised how much I like being in his spaces.

  2. Thanks, DB. Remember the story Dad used to tell about accompanying Uncle Lenny on house hunting trips before they moved to Highland Park and actually considering a lesser known FLW house nearby. He never forgot how all of this specially designed FLW furniture was relegated to a corner of the basement of that house, as if it had become irrelevant, which, I guess, it had for a little while in the early sixties.

  3. DP: We flew to NY on 1 April 1961 and stayed a week. I was in 2nd grade and kept a diary, which I don't have anymore. There were indeed Minox photos of us standing next to paintings in the Guggenheim, but I can't find those either.