Experiencing the Guggenheim Museum

Experiencing the Guggenheim Museum

[Image 1]

Because of his love of natural settings, Frank Lloyd Wright would have preferred the Guggenheim Museum be built outside New York City. Do you agree or disagree? Why? As you observe this aerial photo of the museum, what natural elements can you see? Describe the museum in relationship to its site. In what ways is the museum in harmony with the area around it? How is it different from the environment that surrounds it?

Whereas the rest of Fifth Avenue presents buildings that are rectangular, vertical, and decorated with bits of ornamentation, the Guggenheim counters this regularity with its circular, horizontal, and sculpted facade.

Wright put out a "welcome mat" for visitors by more than doubling the width of the sidewalk and announcing his central motif—the circle—even in the concrete pavers that surround the building. Year-round you will find people perched along the outside ledges, taking in the sun, enjoying a snack purchased from one of the street vendors, or watching the passing parade of natives and tourists from around the world.

[Image 2]

As you face the outside of the museum you will see three distinct formations. To your right, and most imposing, is the large rotunda. To the left, the small rotunda echoes the circular shape at a smaller scale. Until 1988 it was used as administrative offices, but is now open to the public. The rectangular building is an addition that opened in 1992. Designed by Gwathmey Siegel Associates, Architects, it provides additional exhibition and office space.

Because of its unusual shape, the Guggenheim Museum has been compared to many common and not-so-common objects. What does the museum remind you of? Try to complete the following sentence. The Guggenheim Museum is like a __________________.

As you approach the museum's entrance, the openness you previously felt is replaced by the imposition of a hovering, low ceiling. The entrance is simple and understated. At every step of the way Frank Lloyd Wright directs what you see and when you see it.

[Image 3]

As you step forward the low-ceilinged area suddenly opens into the rotunda and draws your eye upward to the over-arching skylight. The works of art remain mostly hidden. Before you get to them, you must experience the building itself.

Here we begin to grasp Wright's vision for the museum space. Wright has based his design on the idea of a spiral-ramped building topped by a large skylight. He conceived of the museum as an airy, open place where visitors would not have to retrace their steps. He planned a continuous ramp curling around a great central space. The rotunda floor functions almost like a town plaza. Visitors on the ramps not only view the art, but also are aware of people in other areas of the museum. Wright described his plan as one in which the visitor would enter the building on the ground level, take an elevator to the top, and descend the gradually sloped ramp, enjoying the art on display, until returning to the entrance.

[Image 4]

This photo was taken from the top ramp of the museum looking down to the rotunda floor below. Some people find this experience thrilling; some find it frightening and can't quite bear to look down. Imagine yourself emerging from the rotunda elevator onto the museum's top ramp. Write a paragraph that describes what you see, what you feel and what you hear as you view the museum from this perspective. Compare your reactions with those of your classmates.

[Image 5]

This diagram shows the interior plan of the Guggenheim Museum. According to Wright's design, visitors would enter the building, take an elevator to the top, and enjoy a continuous art-viewing experience while descending along the spiral ramp. With a pointer, trace the path that Wright intended for visitors to travel. In what way does Wright's design conform to the principle of "form follows function"? Are there ways that Wright's design is contrary to the function of an art museum?

[Image 6]

This painting, Composition 8 by Vasily Kandinsky (1923), was the first non-objective painting purchased by Solomon Guggenheim. At the time, this painting was considered revolutionary because it used forms, shapes, and colors that were invented rather than observed. The Guggenheim Museum was built to house Solomon Guggenheim's collection of non-objective paintings. In what ways does the architecture of the museum seem to consider the paintings that it was designed to exhibit?

[Image 7]

According to architectural historian and critic Paul Goldberger:

" In many buildings, you observe them best by staying in one place and taking it all in. But the only real way to experience the rotunda is to move along the spiral.... Because it's the experience of...feeling the space change, feeling yourself go round and round at this remarkable pace that Wright sets for you...seeing a piece of art that you have just seen close-up again across the rotunda from a distance. All those things are essential to the experience of the Guggenheim. It's a building that you cannot experience by sitting in one place.... It was Wright's idea that the building is about movement through space as much as it is about space itself. "

On View

This presentation, comprised of selected materials from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, pays homage to the first Frank Lloyd Wright–designed structures in New York City.

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