The Guggenheim name has long been associated with modernity and celebrity. Some might even argue that its birth coincides with the rise in our culture of modern celebrity. When philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim founded his first museum in 1939, the “Museum of Non-Objective Painting” in a former car showroom on Manhattan’s East 54th Street, it took him only a few short years to realize that bringing in starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright to design the museum’s permanent space would also usher in visitors, prestige, and attention to his impressive collection of early modern art. (This collection included, among other great works, a sizeable chunk of Kandinsky works now assembled to perfection in one of fall’s hottest cultural lineups.) Indeed, after nearly two decades of planning and construction, controversy swirled at the Guggenheim’s 1959 opening. What was this new massive, conical structure, seemingly drilled like a giant white bolt into the ground on just outside Central Park? It was organic yet cutting-edge, a shade below blinding white; and it was strangely spiritual—or so the architect said. Above all, it was undeniably wrapped in a tinge of Wright’s colorful celebrity. Sadly, he died shortly before the museum’s autumn opening, in spring.
Still, the Guggenheim’s inception was somewhat debaucherous and most certainly a triumph for the city. The now-iconic structure has become a monument to artistic innovation, and it testifies to a time when New York City was churning in artistic fervor and bursting with new design. Inside, the museum’s collection contains an impressive range of works from the Impressionist era and also continues to acquire contemporary pieces. (Still, many remark from both within and without the museum that the building itself is “the most important object in the museum’s collection,” as architectural critic Paul Goldberger noted in his tribute to the building’s fiftieth anniversary.)
Showpiece or no, the museum’s collection is certainly a worthwhile visit. Natasha Schlesinger, art historian, former Christie’s specialist and Indagare Insider, rates it as one of her favorite places to visit with kids, because the space “offers itself brilliantly to many different exhibitions and art works.”
In general, the Guggenheim name is synonymous with vital cultural centers around the worldwide, each city granting its own Guggenheim varying heights of profile. All are worthy of a visit. Some, like Bilbao’s groovy undulations crafted by architect Frank Gehry, are world-renowned landmarks like New York’s; others, like Venice’s spectacular, bite-sized Collezione Peggy Guggenheim are packed to the gills with their artistic import, offering Picassos, Pollocks and Ernsts. And still some, like Las Vegas’ Rem Koolhaas-designed Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, are simply glimmers of curatorial hope in otherwise fast-paced destinations.
In New York City, stick your head in the Guggenheim with children or simply stroll past it on your way down the East Side’s Museum Mile. You’re likely to encounter some megastar wattage on the walls: exhibitions on Frank Gehry, Giorgio Armani, and even the Art of the Motorcycle have been recorded as its most popular. But of course its record-breaking exhibit was the one that brought the city face-to-face with Oz of Guggenheim himself: 2009’s “From Within Outward”, a retrospective on Frank Lloyd Wright, had city-dwellers clamoring for a look inside the head of one of America’s first modern celebrities. Sun–Wed 10 a.m.–5:45 p.m.
Fri 10 a.m.–5:45 p.m.
Sat 10 a.m.–7:45 p.m.
Some galleries may close prior to 5:45 p.m. Sun–Wed and Fri (7:45 p.m. Sat).