Frank Lloyd Wright was a foe of the academicians in his youth. He later grew to disdain painting and sculpture generally and to see architecture as the only art. The end result of all this was the Guggenheim Museum. A museum that defeated the work it houses…
When Wright began in the late 1880′s he was experimenting with the dominant architectural idioms of his day: Colonial, Louis Sullivan, Queene Anne, Tudor; all of which were inadequate to his needs and filled with glimpses of William Morris. All these borrowed and eclectic elements were always minor in his compositions, handled with a restraint bordering on coolness. As the century closes, his architecture grows steadily more unified in expression, and such ornmant and art as survive become less eclectic and more integral to the structure. His control over these art forms is increasingly apparent.
Though Wright employed a number of artists and craftsmen in the decade between 1900 and 1910, his increasing editorship of their work is readily traced. In both subject matter and handling it moves toward simplification, toward abstraction. Stained glass, mosaic, frescoes, and wrought iron all show the influence of the Orient, especially of the Japanese print. Moreover, even big elements like the white wisteria mural in the martin House of 1904 or the birch and fern panels in the Coonley living room of 1907 are not independent statements on the part of free artists but are carefully subordinated to the requirements of the rooms. By the same token, freestanding sculpture and framed easel painting have now disappeared altogether. In the final large-scale project of the period, the Midway gardens of 1913, there is a last great burst of sculpture, mural and ornament; but now it is art designed by the architect himself. “My own trusty T-square and triangle” as he put it, and the sculptor is in fact, merely the executor of the designs.
Fortunately for us, this developing attitude toward art and ornament is not only easily inferred from his successive buildings, it is also explicitly developed in his essays and speeches of the period. Indeed, these reveal the astonishing extent to which he rationalized the design process. They reveal a well-read intellectual, a role he was to contemptuously reject in later life, but well aware of the artistic currents in his “ambiance.” “The true value of a work of art depends on its being perfectly adjusted in relation to the whole, in absolute poise, leaving nothing but a feeling of quiet satisfaction,” he said in 1894. And evidently he found little that met this criterion.
And the more he studied the art being offered to Chicagoans, the keener became his dissatisfaction.
“Pictures deface walls oftener than they decorate them. Pictures should be decorative and incorporated in the general scheme as decoration.” ( 1908)…and two years later, he reaches the logical conclusion of his line of thought:There are no decorations, nor is there place for them as such. The easel picture has no place on the walls. It is regarded as music might be, suited to a mood, and provided for in a recess of the wall if desired, where a door like the cover of a portfolio might be dropped and the particular thing desired studied for a time; left exposed for days, perhaps, to give place to another, or entirely put away by simply closing the wooden portfolio. Great pictures should have their gallery. Oratorio is not performed in a drawing-room. Read More:http://www.expo98.msu.edu/people/wright.htm
This sort of generalized criticism of painting might, by itself, be dismissed as either parochial or misanthropic. But Wright did not stop
the general: he knew very well the art that was available to him, and his objections to it were concrete and specific. They dealt with both its form and its content. The forms “lacked repose”; they were strident, histrionic; they needed simplification, “conventionalizing.”
In short, the lacked the abstraction of reality which marked all great art. As for their subject matter:
Music may be for the architect ever and always a sympathetic friend whose counsels, precepts, and
patterns even are available to him and from which he need not fear to draw. But the arts are today all cursed by
literature; artists attempt to make literature even of music, usually of painting and sculpture and doubtless would
of architecture also were the art not moribund; but whenever it is done the soul of the thing dies and we have not
art but something far less for which the true artist can have neither affection nor respect.Read More:http://www.learn.columbia.edu/courses/arch20/pdf/art_hum_reading_51.pdf
The galleries and museums of Chicago were prison houses of gesture and anecdote, cast in forms of photographic artificiality:As Nature is never right for a picture so is she never right for the architect-that is, not
ready made….and… ” if you see a picture in which perhaps a cow is looking out at you so real, so lifelike, he told one group sardonically, don’t buy the picture, “buy the cow.”
This concept of movement is behind the importance of Cubism in the twentieth century. The movement and tension between planes and the picture plane can be said to have become a spiritual equivalent, although not in any doctrinaire sense. This movement creates energy,
which I see as spirit underlying the astonishing development within the works of Stravinsky, Wright and Pollock. They thus look beneath the surface of tradition or realism for a deeper spirituality….Frank Lloyd Wright also learned from cubism and this new use of architectural space is most evident in his first real masterpiece, the Robie House from 1908-10 outside of Chicago. Robert Jordy, the incredible American architectural historian, has noted how even the piers on the outside, the supposedly firm and solid supports for the building, how even these are broken visually, thus enhancing the movement within the house….Read More:http://www.joyarrington.com/Site%20Projects/tc/JY_Trinity_Proceedings_Spiritual_Art2001.pdf
No great attempt is made to imagine Wright anew, which may be the wisest approach to a man whose genius is unquestioned, but whose legacy is almost as untidy as his biography.
What a life! In 1914, a butler succumbing to a murderous rage at Taliesin, Wright’s lavish Wisconsin estate, killed Mamah Cheney, the architect’s mistress, her two children and four others and set fire to the house. (Wright had left his first wife and six children years before.)
He then married the unstable Miriam, a morphine addict. Olgivanna, the third wife, a disciple of the self-appointed mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, cultivated an increasingly bizarre and cultlike devotion to Wright among volunteer apprentices.
Wright’s greatest romance may have been with the American landscape. His brilliant expression of yeoman-farmer individualism still exerts a powerful emotional pull. Read More:http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=auODPTC3i_E0&refer=muse