Guggenheim Museum

Sharon Lorenzo’s twelfth examination of a work of art.

This year we have looked at many works of art for their intrinsic aesthetic and artistic value and contribution to the world of visual culture.  I propose that we conclude this journey with an examination of one work of art in the round: the Guggenheim Museum itself. Located at 1071 Fifth Avenue in New York City at the corner of 89th street, its historic evolution and significance speaks for itself as a lasting three dimensional work of architectural mastery.

The museum was a joint effort conceived by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright ( 1867-1959) but funded by the mineral successes of Solomon R. Guggenheim ( 1861-1949) who was a visionary in his creation of the Yukon Gold Company and the management of the American Smelting and Refining Company founded by his father. Sadly the museum opened on October 21, 1959 after the death of both gentlemen. Hosting 1.2 million visitors annually, the museum today is a lasting tribute to the idea of what great inventive architecture can bring to the museum world today.

Frank Lloyd WrightFrank Lloyd Wright

Solomon GuggenheimSolomon R. Guggenheim

Professor Anthony Aveni of Colgate University postulates in his numerous writings on Mayan celestial observations that Wright might have been influenced in his design for the museum by an ancient observatory in the Yucatan peninsula known as “ Le Caracol,” which is the Spanish name for snail. The rounded shape today still contains the open sky light where the pre-contact population noted the movement of our galaxy with the identification of many stars and planets. Located near the ceremonial center of Chichen Itza in Mexico, Aveni estimates that the observatory was built about 906 AD. [i] Solomon Guggenheim had a curatorial assistant, Hillary von Rebay, and she called his building a “temple of the spirit.” Its rounded walls constructed in concrete allowed Wright to design an interior runway for curatorial installations that span the entire building. Visitors can ascend or descend as they chose to experience the exhibitions as a kind of spiritual pilgrimage within the space.

El Caracol, Chichen Itza, Mexico

El Caracol, Chichen Itza, Mexico

In our present day, members of the Guggenheim family still preside on its board of trustees voting on budgets, future plans and the global expansion of its famous brand. With a satellite space already in Bilbao, Spain, there is yet another huge project of 30,000 square feet in the works for the United Arab Emirates on Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi.  Architect Frank Gehry will build a new museum there to be curated and funded partially by the New York Guggenheim to reflect Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures.

Guggenheim's Frank Gehry, Saadiyat Island

Frank Gehry, Saadiyat Island proposal

From the first director in New York, James Johnson Sweeney in 1953, to the present leadership of Richard Armstrong, the visual collection has been refined to include modern and contemporary European and American works of art. From early acquisitions such as the Franz Marc “Yellow Cow” of 1911 to the present day gold throne by Mauricio Catallan, the installations are always thought provoking and attractive to a diverse audience of different ages and interests.   One of my timeless favorites is the work of Amedeo Modigliani, The Nude, of 1917 who still reigns as both a nude and naked icon of feminism and sexuality.

Guggenheim's Yellow Cow, Franz Marc

Yellow Cow, Franz Marc, 1911

Guggenheim's Golden Throne, Mauricio Catallan

Golden Throne, Mauricio Catallan, 2011

Guggenheim's The Nude, Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani, The Nude, 1917

Guggenheim Interior Spiral

In a recent lecture, Richard Armstrong identified his goals for the institution as ones which augment the aims and ambitions of both Wright and Guggenheim. More students are being brought into the museum with an art curriculum for all ages. Performances in the rotunda attract a musical audience as well. Loans from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice are often part of the mix. There is room in the future for all kinds of global thinking and cooperation in this museum where the leadership from the beginning has tried to add a new vision for ways to enhance our visual culture for the greater benefit of all.

Guggenheim Museum Director Richard Armstrong

Director Richard Armstrong

Guggenheim Museum, Childrens Center

Sackler Center for Arts Education


The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation



[i] Dr. Anthony Aveni, The Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, 1980, University of Texas Press.               .