If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:13

Video transcript

this is steven zucker standing outside of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum with Matthew postal an architectural historian standing outside of one of the most iconic buildings in New York certainly one of the most unusual buildings we're walking up Fifth Avenue rows of pre-war limestone and glazed brick buildings of approximately the same height rectilinear these boxes really and then you come across this wild construction what is Wright thinking he wanted to design something that would leave a mark an unforgettable mark in Manhattan so Frank Lloyd Wright does this at the end of his career and actually the the dating of the building is a little bit complicated he was hired in in 1943 and the the famous model that we often see him in Hillary Bay with and Solomon R Guggenheim himself dates in 1945 but then the building doesn't get built until 1959 what accounts for the delay how does this work there were a lot of challenges there was the Second World War there was a downturn in the economy in the late 40s there's the Korean War and then finally there is the issue of how do you build a spiral museum entirely out of concrete it's really complicated to even describe from the front you've got these two main masses in this bridge that links them there's a tremendous kind of unity I think of form the circle repeats itself over and over again what is similar to what he did before okay I mean from the very start he's he's interested in geometry he's interested in patterns he would use patterned brickwork he would use pattern floor treatment he liked patterns whether they were a hexagons or octagons or triangles here's an opportunity to do a circle and you see them everywhere built into the sidewalk in front of the building and of course you see it in the rotunda themselves it's Ferris concrete right it's held up with rebar you know his early buildings are basically poured concrete blocks of concrete like unity temple although he probably used metal to strengthen the concrete in some places but this building because of the width of the ramps and the walls and it all has to be one continuous surface requires a lot of types of cage-like metal to hold up the structure so he's doing something incredibly ambitious by keeping this atrium completely open by having these cantilevered ramps that's circle through the atrium and give us the exhibition space we see even more cantilever on the outside of the building so the whole thing seems incredibly precarious pushing the limits of engineering and in that it kind of reminds me of its visual precedent which is to say something like the Pantheon that's really using concrete and enormous ly new and important ways certainly like the Pantheon and the highest Sofia and it it's inspired by expressionist architecture of the 1910s and 20s actually in Germany German Austria but you know when you think about it's one thing to have these ideas it's another thing to execute to realize it right had great drawings he had a terrific model you know he had a patron with money but the real question was how was he going to do it and ultimately the person who built it for him deserves a lot of the credit and the contractor was a man who built parking garages did Frank Lloyd Wright also design a auto showroom on Park Avenue and that actually has a ramp that's right cars and it's very much in the style of the Guggenheim and a store in San Francisco the museum was originally called the Museum of non objective art which was an early way of saying abstract it's now called the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum Guggenheim came from a very wealthy family they had made their money in mining but we also mentioned this woman Hilary Bay who's she Hilary Bay was from Germany she was an abstract painter she came to the United States in the 1920s she exhibited quite frequently and she met Solomon when his wife commissioned a portrait of him there's a really interesting disconnect because when we think of Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect I think we often think of him as antithetical as really in opposition to the European modernists and yet here he is creating the structure that sits meant to house them well he wasn't the first choice when it was suggested to Hilary BAE to hire him she reportedly said I thought he was dead they considered several architects but ultimately Wright was well known there was a lot of attention paid to him after Fallingwater was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art the Museum of Modern Art had given him a retrospective in 1940 was it originally intended for this site Fifth Avenue just across the street from Central Park 88 89th Street Solomon Guggenheim had begun to finance his museum in the 1930s and they moved to various locations they had a space where Lieber houses today on 54th Street clearly they wanted an iconic building they wanted a building of great visibility and Frank Lloyd Wright who was a distant cousin of Robert Moses who was the head of planning in New York City actually traveled around Manhattan in an open hat alack looking for an ideal location it's only a few blocks north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art great bastion of classicism was it in any way kind of consciously taking on that tradition do you suppose I mean a museum had always been a kind of Palace architecture I think is pretty radical endeavor of every building draws on other building but clearly Wright was trying as he was almost always trying to create something new what does that do to the art that it contains does it overwhelm or does it frame it in a way that draws the art out and excites us visual it's a funny and ambitious but also I think combative relationship with the modernism that's shown within the museum that that is the container is is an object in the collection isn't it right I mean the issue is should a museum be a neutral container should paintings be hung in simple white boxes or should the architectural design contribute to the aesthetic experience so there is a kind of push and pull and there is a really kind of modernist conceit here in that it actually raises that question that the object doesn't recede that the building I should say doesn't recede into the background it remains very much in the foreground and forces us to grapple with those kinds of questions kind of zealously guards its own primacy so there's always this antagonism then between the rectilinear and two dimensionality of the canvas and the dynamism of the structure is that a good situation for paintings to be displayed maybe not paintings themselves in isolation but perhaps you know one of the issues is that when we get to the modernist era we don't think about paintings in isolation we think about the converge contexts construct meaning and Wright is asserting this quite powerful context I think Hillary Bay wanted to you know break boundaries and and I think Wright was a perfect candidate to do