Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I have long wanted to visit the two Guggenheim art museums, one in New York City designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and opened in 1959 and one in Bilbao, Spain, designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. I can now check the NYC Guggenheim of my list. When are we going back to Spain, Bob?

I don't have any really good pictures of the exterior of New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, but this one more or less shows the building's circular shape that increases at the top rather than decreases, part of the unique design:

Warning to future visitors: Quite a few food carts were lined up outside the main entrance. It's hard (okay, impossible) to resist a New York hot dog:

Because of the two famous art museums financed by and named after him, most people have heard of Solomon R. Guggenheim, but, like me, you probably don't know anything about his story.

Photo from here
He was born in 1861 in Philadelphia to a wealthy mining family. After being educated in Switzerland, he returned to the United States and founded the Yukon Mining Company in 1891. In 1895 he married Irene Rothschild, a regular gal who was not related to the very wealthy banking dynasty. Guggenheim began collecting art--primarily works by the old masters--in the 1890s, and he retired in 1919 so he could focus on this growing obsession. In 1930 he met German artist Wassily Kandinsky and began collecting his art, then expanded to collecting other early modernist artists. Before long, Guggenheim became a force in the modern and advant-garde art world. He began showing his substantial collection in his apartment in the Plaza Hotel, and when his art outgrew his space, he created the Museum of Non-Objective Painting at 24 East 54th Street in New York City in 1939. In 1943 he commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new building (the only museum Wright designed), but Guggenheim died in 1949, ten years before it was completed. Frank Lloyd Wright died six months before the opening.

I think they both would like how it all ended up.

While the museum houses some of Guggenheim's original Old Masters paintings, the focus is definitely on 20th and 21st century art, and the building itself can be considered a piece of that art, a fact which bothers those who think the architecture upstages the displays.

The building definitely draws a lot of attention. Upon entering, it's impossible not to look up at the skylight, simultaneously reminiscent of both a cathedral dome and a spider web:

Next, the eyes are drawn to the spiraling ramps that wind up to the skylight, or, as Frank Lloyd Wright saw it, ramps spiraling downward from the top to the street level. He intended that patrons ride an elevator up, then walk down.

There were a few contemporary pieces near ground level, including our first encounter with work by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. This one caught my eye because of the German words "Wo bist du?" in the center--words I often heard my German grandmother call out:

Their comparison of the social construct relating to men and women is also interesting:

There was more Fischli and Weiss work to see, but first we passed through a section of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings.

We've been to a lot of art museums and so we've seen a LOT of Picasso, but I especially liked the three on display in the Guggenheim. First are Woman Ironing (1904) and Woman with Yellow Hair (1931). The women have similar poses, wonderfully illustrating the metamorphosis of Picasso's style. Would you guess these two paintings are by the same artist?

I hadn't seen this Picasso before, and I LOVE it: Lobster and Cat (1965):

There was a pretty good assortment of Impressionist paintings. Note that the dates go backward in time because we were going up the spiral rather than down as Wright intended:
Haere Mai (1891) by Paul Gauguin
The title is a Maori greeting that means "Come here" or "Welcome"

Peasant with Hoe (1882) by Georges Seurat

Dancers in Green and Yellow (1903)
by Edgar Degas

Before the Mirror (1876) by Edouard Manet

Woman with Parrot (1871) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Hermitage at Pontoise (c. 1867) by Camille Pissarro

It is a nice collection, and it's always fun to see "The Masters," but my favorite art in the museum was an extensive special exhibit by Fischli and Weiss entitled "Suddenly This Overview," a series of clay sculptures made over a period of thirty years. The works range from serious to slapstick and cover many general topics.

There are the POLAR OPPOSITES, which include Sweet and Sour:

Clean and dirty:

Construction and deconstruction:

Practice and Theory:

There are important HISTORICAL (AND ALSO HYSTERICAL) EVENTS, such as The Last Dinosaur:

Anna O. Dreaming the First Dream Interpreted by Freud:

George Washington Crossing the Delaware:

Mick Jagger and Brian Jones Going Home Satisfied  after Composing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction":

Nero Enjoying the View of Rome Burning and Behind Thick Wills Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press:
Pythagoras Marveling at His Theorem:

The Landing of the Allies in Normandy:

Galileo Galilei Shows Two Monks That the World Is Round:

Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, Shortly after the Conception of Their Son, the Genius Albert:

Seven Aliens Marvel at Stonehenge (Okay, maybe this is more hysterical than historical):

There are LITERARY/IMAGINARY SCENARIOS such as Peter on His Way Home from His First Day of School (L) and Rumplestilkin's Final Fit of Rage:

Soldier of Evil and Frankenstein Admires a Flower:

The Idiot in Dostoyevsky's Book Looks at a Donkey and Is Suddenly Healed:

A Copy of Jack Kerouac's Typewriter:

The Man-Made Man:

Dr. Spock Looks at His Home Planet Vulcanus and Is a Bit Sad That He Can't Have Any Feelings:

There are SCRIPTURAL/RELIGIOUS SCENARIOS, including Jesus Walks on Water, the Fishes are Amazed:


 And there is EVERYDAY LIFE, such as At the Dentist and Hooray, the School is Burning:

Strangers in the Night, Exchanging Glances:


Eat or Be Eaten:

And a good way to end the series, Tourist Attraction:

I know, I know--too many pictures, but it was such a delightful exhibit that I really just want to have a record of my favorites (yes, there were more!) for my own perusal.

All this time we had been twisting, turning, and winding upwards. It's an interesting way to view art, this always-open-to-the-center, always-empty-behind-you display space.

We thought we were done with Fischli and Weiss, but they had one more exhibit that was almost as good as the clay sculptures: Polyurethane Installations. Not exactly a title that would normally excite me, but once I read the description and understood what it was all about, I loved the work:

And here is the work:

It really looks like the mess in our garage:

But every single piece is crafted of polyurethane foam. Incredible! I wish they had let us touch it. It is almost impossible to believe these pieces aren't plastic and metal.

Now we really had made it to the top of the twisting nautilus:

I love the unconventional design of this museum and think it makes the perfect setting for quirky shows like the extensive Fischli and Weiss exhibition. I'm looking forward to returning (and re-turning) to see what is on display next time.


  1. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, particularly the clay renditions. Re-turning, again and again sounds okay for the hotdogs.

  2. What an amazing place! I loved every work of art you included. Stunning building, too!