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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – New York, U.S.A

Home to one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art, the building itself is perhaps the museum’s greatest masterpiece. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the curvaceous, shell-like facade is a New York landmark. Taking its inspiration from nature, the building attempts to render the fluidity of organic forms. Inside, a spiral ramp curves down and inward from a dome, passing works by major 19th- and 20th-century artists. The imaginative layout of the Great Rotunda gives visitors the opportunity to simultaneously view works located on different levels.

GUGGENHEIM AND WRIGHT

Guggenheim amassed his wealth through his family’s mining and metal businesses, which he ran from New York. He collected modernist paintings, and in 1942, he asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design a museum to house them. The architect disagreed with the choice of New York as the project’s site — he felt the city was over-built, overpopulated and lacking in architectural merit. But he acquiesced, and designed a structure to challenge these shortcomings. Disregarding Manhattan’s rectilinear grid system, he brought a fresh notion of museum design to the city by using curving, continuous spaces.

OTHER MUSEUMS

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation runs three other museums. In Bilbao in Spain, a building designed by US architect Frank O. Gehry houses a permanent collection of modern art (search the related post). Solomon’s niece, Peggy Guggenheim, donated her large villa in Venice and her collection of post-1910 masterpieces of surrealist and abstract painting and sculpture to the foundation. Opened in 1951, this museum is situated on the Grand Canal in Venice. In cooperation with Deutsche Bank, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin has four exhibitions a year, including performance art and music.

THE COLLECTION

Guggenheim started out as a collector of mediocre old masters, but after meeting artist Hilla Rebay, he began to amass a superb stock of works by modernist artists such as Delaunay, Leger, and Kandinsky. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was founded in 1937 and established the Museum of Non-Objective Art, as the Guggenheim was known until 1959, in a temporary residence. Planning of the new building began in 1943, but it was not until after Guggenheim’s death in 1949 that the collection was expanded to include such artists as Picasso, Cezanne, Klee, and Mangold. Thannhauser’s collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early modern art, donated from 1978 to 1991 by collector Justin Thannhauser and his widow, is hung in the Tower galleries. The Guggenheim Museum’s exhibits change on a regular basis.

MUSEUM GUIDE

The Great Rotunda puts on special exhibitions. The Small Rotunda shows some of the museum’s celebrated Impressionist and Post-Impressionist holdings. The Tower galleries feature exhibitions of work from the permanent collection, as well as contemporary pieces. A sculpture terrace on the 5th floor overlooks Central Park.

Paris Through the Window

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The vibrant colors of Marc Chagall’s 1913 masterpiece illuminate the canvas, conjuring up images of a magical and mysterious city where nothing is quite what it appears to be.

Woman Holding a Vase

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Fernand Leger incorporated elements of Cubism into this work from 1927.

Black Lines (1913)

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This is one of the earliest examples of Vasily Kandinsky’s “non-objective” art.

Before the Mirror (1876)

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In trying to capture the flavor of 19th-century French society, Edouard Manet often used the image of the courtesan.

Nude (1917)

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This sleeping figure is typical of Amedeo Modigliani’s stylized work. His simplified faces are reminiscent of African masks.

Curving Interior Ramp

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Used in place of conventional level floors, this leads to the top of the Great Rotunda.

Woman Ironing (1904)

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A work from Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period, this painting is his quintessential image of hard work and fatigue.

Woman with Yellow Hair (1931)

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Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s mistress, is shown as a gentle voluptuous figure.

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

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Interior of the Guggenheim’s Great Rotunda

Wright (1867-1959) is considered the great innovator of 20th-century US architecture. He spent more than 70 years designing 1,141 works, including houses, offices, churches, schools, and museums. Characteristic of his work are the “Prairie sty1e” homes that became the basis of residential design in the US, and office buildings or concrete, glass bricks, and tubing. Wright received the Guggenheim commission in 1943, and it was completed after his death in 1959; it was his only New York building.

KEY DATES

1942: Frank Lloyd Wright is commissioned to design the museum.
1949:Guggenheim dies and the project is delayed; it finally begins in 1956.
1959: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opens on Fifth Avenue.
1992: The restored and expanded museum, with a new annexe, reopens.

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