Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Wright Stuff

Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward
Guggenheim Museum of Art
1071 Fifth Avenue

May 15—August 23, 2009

Wright during Guggenheim construction
Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright’s pioneering architecture reached its summation with the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue: a building whose spherical shape—which came from the design’s most unique concept, the multi-story ramp that would also serve as the main exhibition space—was the final word from Wright about how the design of a building’s exterior is informed by what’s inside.

That summarizes the title From Within Outward, the current Guggenheim exhibition of the master architect’s staggering body of work. This exhibition—which includes over 200 drawings (many being shown in public for the first time), several scale models and digital animations, along with vintage photographs cleverly projected on the museum’s curved walls—presents the versatility, virtuosity and breadth of Wright’s architecture as a given. After all, he was—for the first half of the 20th century—America’s most innovative, and most famous, architect.

At first glance, the Guggenheim exhibition pales in comparison with the all-encompassing MOMA retrospective a few years back: there, along with drawings and models, there were pieces of furniture, walls from a handful of structures and stained glass windows on display, all of which gave a more complete picture of Wright as an artist.

But the Guggenheim exhibition has its own inner logic: seeing these rarely-made-public drawings for some 64 Wright projects, built and unbuilt, gives a fresh opportunity to witness Wright’s always innovative use of both exterior and interior space, whether in early triumphs (the unfortunately long-demolished Larkin Building in Buffalo, or his own home, Taliesin), brilliantly-designed homes (Darwin Martin House and Fallingwater), or later masterpieces (Marin County Civic Center and the Guggenheim).

Most inspiring are the projects that, for one reason or another, never got off the ground, with drawings and models of Pittsburgh’s Point Civic Center, Washington’s Crystal City, and—most jaw-droppingly—the 1957 Plan for Greater Baghdad, another astonishing work of Wright’s old age that would be celebrated as the culmination of any other architect’s career.

The exhibition ends at the top of the ramp, with Wright’s own designs for the Guggenheim itself bringing us full circle, as one has only to turn and look down over the rotunda and see that, whatever else he was (and he was a lot of things), Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect first and foremost, whose genius remains relevant today.

originally posted on

No comments: