Frank Lloyd Wright and The Guggenheim Museum Spiral You Upward.
I saw Frank Lloyd Wright in all his creative glory when I went to Guggenheim Museum in New York City for the first time in 1975. It was over the New Year’s break when I drove there with my art school buddy, Tom. We travelled in the dead of winter from the Cleveland Institute of Art, in my Volkswagon, to see the great art Mecca of New York.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, often referred to as The Guggenheim, is an art museum located at 1071 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 89th Street in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the cylindrical building, wider at the top than the bottom, was conceived as a “temple of the spirit.” Its unique ramp gallery extends up from ground level in a long, continuous spiral along the outer edges of the building to end just under the ceiling skylight. WIKIPEDIA
I don’t think I had ever seen a building quite like it before. As you walked around the spiraling galleries, it felt as if an ascension of your soul was taking place. Tom and I were awestruck. We spiraled upward past some of our favorite painters: Wassily Kandinsky; Arshile Gorky; Juan Gris; Georges Braque; Marc Chagall; Fernand Leger—just to mention a few. This was a “mighty temple of art,” we thought, and we were immersed in our foremost love—for painting, drawing, sculpture and architecture, all rolled into ONE at the Guggenheim.
I noticed my first Kandinsky in the flesh, in a way I never had before. Some of his best paintings are at the Guggenheim. This great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had created a temple, a “Church of Art” that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Solomon R. Guggenheim, a gold mine magnate, had a passion for art collecting, and he needed a building to hold his vast modern art collection.
The Guggenheim Art Legacy
Solomon R. Guggenheim, and later his niece, Peggy Guggenheim, were among the most dynamic collectors and supporters of modern art in the early to mid-twentieth century. The seriousness of their mission to harbor the evolution of Western Art in the modern age was broad and also focused. They were not only determined to collect these paintings and sculptures of the most innovative artists of their day, but also to house the artworks in buildings designed solely for the public display of their collections. This philanthropy was hardly precedented by a private patron. Museums had been around for a long time, but the Guggenheims set a new precedent for wealthy art patrons to make their collections public, under their name.
Similarly inspired, other magnates of business would follow suit: Henry Clay Frick (New York); Albert C. Barnes (Philadelphia); J. Paul Getty (Los Angeles), just to name a few.
Frank Lloyd Wright, considered the pre-eminent architect of his day, was hired by Guggenheim to build his “Temple of the Spirit.” It is noted that he disliked Manhattan, and would have preferred a different location. In an interview with Mike Wallace in 1957, two years before his passing at aged 91, he was asked what he thought about the New York City sky line. Wright said, “It never was planned. It’s all a ‘race for rent,’ and it is a great monument, I think, to the power of money and greed—trying to substitute money for ideas. I don’t see an idea in the whole thing, anywhere, do you? What’s the idea?” You can listen to the whole interview here. It is very provocative.
I was amazed by this interview by Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of clarity. This quintessential architect of the American Spirit tells Mike Wallace about the inherently sacred nature of his designs:
“For 500 years what we call architecture has been phony. In the sense it was not innate. It wasn’t organic. It didn’t have the character of Nature. And I put a capital “N” on Nature—and call it my “church.” And that’s my church. And because my church is elemental, and fundamental, I can build for anybody a church.”
When asked by Wallace what would he say to a student, and young person who wanted a creative principle to live by, he said:
“I don’t put a line on a drawing board that the answer isn’t there. The answer is within yourself. Within the nature of the thing that you yourself represent, as yourself. That’s where architecture lies; that’s where humanity lies; that’s where the future we are going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything, it’s there now, and all we have to do is to develop it.”
A “Church to Art” houses the freedom of the human spirit
When I walked into the Guggenheim Museum over 40 years ago with my art buddy Tom, I was affirming in myself the truth of what Wright was saying. He was demonstrating with this masterpiece of a “Church to Art,” to the people of this nation and the world, the freedom of the human spirit. Generations to come would experience the spiraling upward toward the light, and this is a real and palpable thing in the Guggenheim. It is not just a pipe dream of Wright’s intellectual understanding, but an actualization, a grounding of his holy vision. He needed no “religion” to reach God. All he needed was an “elemental and fundamental” connection to his Divine Source, both Masculine and Feminine combined—the holy IDEA melded with the holy MANIFESTATION, Father + Mother — to bring us this remarkable building of spiritual transcendence.
In the New Year of 1975 I was in the vortex of this vision—my own vision—aided by the mastery of Frank Lloyd Wright. I was immersed in my Love. I saw my first Kandinsky in real life, real time. I saw my first Arshile Gorky at the Guggenheim as well:
The calligraphic perfection of this painter impressed me, and hearkened to the Nature with a capital “N” that was so strongly emphasized by Wright in his interview with Wallace. This painting, “Untitled,” by Gorky was painted in 1944, at the end of a long and tragic World War. Artists were leaving the platitudes of religious, political and social belif structures to find their own connection with Divine Source.
The “answer” is within yourself
As Frank Lloyd Wright told his interviewer, “The answer is within yourself. Within the nature of the thing that you yourself represent, as yourself.” And this answer for all artists, in this time of great Spiritual Need, is to look within. Also, for artists to look without and to meld the impulses and inklings of their souls with the certainty of a creative expression. This expression is formative from the very stuff of painting, drawing, and architecture itself—the elemental and fundamental materials that make up our universe.
These were new languages. At first they seemed very foreign to the crowd. And they were. But nevertheless, they came forth from these courageous spokesmen for the New. Their creations fulfilled a necessity of the Spirit that was unfolding after the double destruction of two World Wars. Their imagery and structures appealed to the Unknown for blessing and aspiration.
We have the Guggenheim Museum of Art now that ascends to the heavens, thanks to the determination of one man to be true to himself. My trip there forty-three years ago lit a light of ascension in me. I sought the “answer within myself” and did not succumb the darker hours of my life that could have sidetracked my destiny, my meeting with my higher fate.
The Guggenheim Museum “spiraled me upward” then, as it continues to do so now. I have painted for all these years since then with a passion. You can see the oeuvre of my creative work HERE.
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