the long and winding ramp

War on the fine arts. Frank Lloyd Wright definitely had a chip on his shoulder and it manifested itself on a war on the fine arts. He began as a foe of the academicism, orthodox teachings, and this later festered into a disdain for painting and sculpture generally. In effect, this meant he viewed architecture as the only art. The crowning achievement of this of course is the Guggenheim, a museum that defeats the work it is supposed to house and glorify. …

---In a 1959 New Yorker review of the recently opened Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lewis Mumford admired Frank Lloyd Wright's invention but deplored the building's many deficiencies as a place to exhibit art: the distracting ramp, the sloping walls, the lack of conventional galleries. He concluded that perhaps the best solution would be to turn "Wright's monumental and ultimately mischievous failure" into a museum of architecture. Last month, the Guggenheim did something better. As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, for a solo show by a young European performance artist, Tino Sehgal, it left the rotunda empty. The stark space was a revelation. Like Mumford, I've always considered the Guggenheim a tug of war between architecture and whatever was on display, with the latter often losing.---Read More: Image:

Wright died just short of his ninetieth birthday and just before the opening of what he surely considered to be one of his major works.For Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum in New York would have been important not so much for its size or complexity, but because it represented his final conquest of a lifelong adversary: the metropolitan East. Death robbed him of this sweetest victory. But even in death he remained the focus of controversy. At the time, everyone commented on the museum and no one found it possible to be neutral. Still today, on only one point does it seem possible to be in agreement; and that is no matter how handsome it is as an architectural fact, a massive expression of form, it is not successful as a museum. It seems planned to annoy and to think of this modernist ego maniac no matter how hard one tries, the juices start bubbling.

---The ascending ramp is usually described as a simple spiral—that's what the souvenir coffee mugs for sale in the museum gift shop reproduce. In fact, the ramp is a helix, a spiral whose diameter increases as it rises. Moreover, it's a complicated helix, being interrupted by a bulging balcony at each revolution. The ramp leans outward, but other elements, such as the structural fins that transfer the weight of the ramp to the outside walls, and rise to support the central skylight, lean in. The exterior walls are tilted, too, following Wright's original conception (not implemented) of exhibiting paintings casually, as if they were simply leaning on an easel. Visitors to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s inaugural exhibition, New York, October 1959. Click image to expand. Frank Lloyd Wright at the Guggenheim Museum during construction Advertisement Modern architecture is often characterized in terms of its makers' concerns with pure space, although in truth space is not really perceived, only the surfaces that enclose it. In the Guggenheim, Wright manipulates these surfaces to great effect.---Read More: image:

Seen from the outside, the great exploding spiral is a powerful landmark; within, it appears as a magnificent vessel for containing the crowds, displaying them to far greater advantage than does the grand staircase of the Paris Opera. But it does not display painting or sculpture to equal advantage. On the contrary, with perverse if not malicious skill, Wright’s museum dwarfs the art it might have been expected to magnify.

Wright has set the individual pieces afloat in a vortex, a whirlpool, and interior volume of absolutely overpowering movement. He has taken unfair advantage of the artists: Kandinsky with his intersecting circles and delicate pastels; of elegant modest Brancusi; of gay Miro. He has reduced them all to the level of lonely little shepherd boys, piping away in competition with Lohengrin. Michelangelo himself would be unsafe in Wright’s museum.

---Beginning in roughly 1939, modernist architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, and Richard Meier, among others, had photographer Ezra Stoller document their now-classic buildings--"classic" in themselves, but also because of Stoller's exquisite "classicizing" of them. With deft assurance, Stoller imbued the structures with an aura of inevitability. Seen through his lens, their geometry seems eternal--timeless as the pyramids--and drawn to some perceptual seventh heaven. ...By highlighting the buildings' geometric qualities, Stoller's photographs suggest, correctly, that the structures are best admired and contemplated as autonomous works of art, not lived in by human beings. Read More: image:

The realization of his failure must have come as a disappointment to the admirer’s of Frank Lloyd Wright, but it should not have come as a surprise. The museum is merely a statement in reinforced concrete, of his lifelong conception of the relative importance of architecture and the fine arts. For him, architecture was always literally “the mother of the arts” , absolute in its supremacy over all the others. In the last decades of his life it became more and more the only art. No other architect of comparable stature minimized art as consistently as he. Little mural painting or sculpture appears as an integral part of his later work.

In those buildings over whose interior design he exercised control, there is not only little contemporary Western art, there is not even a place for it-physically and aesthetically. Nor did he ever, in these later decades, give any evidence that he could collaborate with independent artists, as did the elder Saarinen with Carl Milles or Niemeyer with the muralist Portinari.


When Frank Lloyd Wright was in his 80s, he had more architectural projects in the works than ever. He cut a vital, distinguished figure,

h his silver mane, natty dress and a cane he often twirled. Often seen smoking and wearing a modified cowboy hat, he was arrogant, mischievous and also a genius. “I defy anyone to name a single aspect of the best contemporary architecture that wasn’t done first by me,” he once said. “Or a single aspect of the worst contemporary architecture that isn’t a betrayal of what I’ve done.”

For him, architecture was a space for life, not a façade, not a monument, not a box. “I started war on architecture as a box,” he told an American Institute of Architects convention in 1952, aged 83. In demonstration, he drew a box on a blackboard (“Now, you see, boys, there is the box”), which he then smudged, erased and reconfigured. Walls and roofs are meant to be stretched and redefined, he explained. The essence of a building is in its interior space, where people live, work and pray. “The architect is the pattern-giver of civilisation.” Read More:

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