Frank Lloyd Wright grew to disdain painting and sculpture generally and to see architecture as the only art. A lifetime of this mindset gave rise to a predictable and inevitable final result: The Guggenheim museum, a museum that defeats the work it houses. A building that exists for its own structural sake is an artistic kiss of death. An imposition on public space characterized by an aggressive indifference, hostility, to the needs and sensibilities of the individual who uses it. An act of inverted nihilism and narcissism in that in spite of abstract splendor of form is ultimately a vacuous statement, or a statement about the vacuity of the forces that signed off on his plans and had it built. The whole spirit of financial shenanigans, monkey business and manipulation attributed to Guggenheim that cascaded down to our recent financial crisis. The relation of money values subsuming art values…
…And yet Frank Lloyd Wright was not always able or willing to exclude art from his life or his buildings. On the contrary, there was a time in his early manhood when the problems of the fine arts and their relation to architecture occupied much of his attention. During the first two decades of his practice, he wrote and spoke extensively on the subject and worked closely with a number of artists and craftsmen. Many of his houses employed sculpture and painting in a wide range of media: fresco, stained glass, cast concrete, wrought iron. And he began, during just this period, that collection of oriental prints which was to make him one of the greatest collectors in the nation.
What then, is the origin of Wright’s later attitude towards art, especially modern Western art; that mixture of hostility to, contempt for, and bland ignorance of the work of his contemporaries in the fields of painting and sculpture?
In 1887, when Wright arrived in Chicago as a fastidious, arrogant, but very perceptive young man, he looked at the middle-western art world and found it worthy of nothing but hostility and contempt. It is unfortunate, both for Wright and for art, that this initial exposure led to prejudices that were never to change. But if we follow him closely during those critical years from 1887 to 1913, we can only be impressed by the acuteness of his observations and the sagacity of his decisions. For they led him safely, indeed, triumphantly, through a period that was disastrous for most American architects and artists.
Wright’s initial reactions were completely pragmatic. Escape from the eclecticism of the period was not merely an exercise in aesthetics, it was for him a matter of urgent, practical necessity. For the young architect discovered that, to build, he had to have materials. And in 1887 such materials as marble, brick, wood, bronze, velvet, and glass were all so tightly locked in corrupted design forms that their real, independent properties: color, texture and luster: were inaccessible. They had indeed become invisible.
People could actually no longer see the marble for the column, the bronze for the vase, the wood for the jig-saw fretwork. Wright described the situation quite clearly:
Workmen seldom like to think, especially if there is financial risk entailed; at your peril do you disturb their established processes mental or technical. To do anything in an unusual, even if in a better and simpler wa
s to complicate the situation at once. Simple things at that time in any industrial field were nowhere at hand. A piece of wood without a molding was an anomaly; a plain wooden slat instead of a turned baluster a joke, the omission of the merchantable “grille” a crime; plain fabrics for hangings or floor covering were nowhere to be found in stock.
To become the recognized enemy of the established industrial order was no light matter, for soon whenever a set of my drawings was presented to a Chicago mill-man for figures he would willingly enough unroll it, read the architects’s name, shake his head, and return it with the remark that he was ” not hunting for trouble”; sagacious owners and general contractors tried cutting out the name, but in vain, his perspicacity was ratlike, he had come to know “the look of the thing.” Read More:http://www.learn.columbia.edu/courses/arch20/pdf/art_hum_reading_51.pdf
Ornament had had destroyed material, content was lost in bankrupt form. The perception of this fact and the recognition of what must be done to escape its ugly consequences; these were what distinguished Wright from his contemporaries. Even Louis Sullivan, engaged in the same struggle, did not see the issue so clearly. In his attempt to replace bad ornament with good, Sullivan became obsessed with the problem- an obsession which led him ultimately into a dismal swamp of metaphysical speculation.
Wright never made such an error. At first merely distrusting traditional ornament, he eventually came around to despising it. The change, of course, did not occur in a flash, an epiphany. In these early years we see his tentative efforts to adapt other architect’s styles to his own ends or to evolve equivalents of his own making. We can easily trace this groping for a satisfactory system of expression and, in the process, we can see him experimenting with all the dominant architectural idioms of the day. Even though the results tended to be somewhat derivative, they were characterized by organizational firmness and clarity and he never went on to repeat these experiments since they were obviously inadequate to his needs. ….
It is significant that no architect of similar stature has emerged from his school, or, more likely, the same rage expressing itself in other styles or in other mediums, ironically in the fine arts…
( see link at end): Neither Wright nor Mies built with human beings in mind; they built for the glory of building — they built to show their mastery of space and materials. They built to take their place in architectural history, not in human experience. They built to outdo their predecessors, not to enhance the experience of their contemporaries. Their self-contained buildings are supposed to be experiences in themselves, not facilitators of experience that originates outside them, and can exist apart from them. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/features/kuspit/kuspit5-22-98.asp