Home Magazine Frank Lloyd Wright Vs. Painting

It was In 1943 Hilla Rebay, the co-founder and first director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, commissioned the brilliant American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to construct a permanent home for Guggenheim's museum. Rebay penned a now-famous letter to Wright, dated June 1, 1943, which read, "I want a temple of spirit, a monument!" The choice of Wright was considered risky at the time since the architect famously disliked urban settings.

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Altogether, Wright composed six or seven different comprehensive plans for the new museum, and a total of 749 drawings for the interior and exterior design. With World War II still being waged overseas, the cost of building materials continued to rise, causing frequent delays in planning the construction of the new museum. In 1949 Solomon R. Guggenheim passed away, resulting in even further delays. Shortly after his death, the museum's board of directors agreed to change the name of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum project. Courtesy Section Drawing, 1944. © Yale Books


Once Wright's plans became public knowledge via New York newspapers and other media, many artists and critics reacted with considerable disfavour; many artists collaborated on a letter addressed to Sweeney who was the second director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim, expressing that Wright's plans for a spiral walkway and curvilinear slope were "not suitable for a display of paintings and sculptures. Sweeney himself was known to have had a rather antagonistic relationship with Wright, and the two often clashed over the architect's plans. On October 21, 1959, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened its doors on 1071 5th Ave. in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Sadly, Frank Lloyd Wright passed away in April of that year, so he never witnessed the completion of his final project. The public's response to the museum was largely favourable despite early misgivings; the architecture was considered risky, but overall Wright's design was, and still is, admired for being highly personal and inviting.


Frank Lloyd Wright during the construction. Photo Courtesy of the FLW Foundation


New York Times art critic, however, unequivocally denounced the new Guggenheim building; in his opening day review, entitled "Wright Versus Painting," Canaday lambasted the late architect for infusing his design with "the giddiness of the funhouse in amusement parks .. If he had deliberately designed an interior to annihilate painting as an expressive art, he could not have done much better." Canaday, already infamous amongst many Abstract Expressionists and other Modern artists for denouncing Abstract Expressionism in general, was unforgiving of Wright's personal vision of a modern-day cathedral that invited visitors to view paintings in natural light.

Cover image: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - Frank Lloyd Wright. Courtesy Left Stock Photos from TinnapornShutterstock  Right New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer Al Ravenna. 

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