As part of the Guggenheim’s 50th anniversary celebration, the museum invited nearly 200 architects, artists and designers to propose new uses for the 90-foot-high rotunda of its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. The result is the visionary and visually stunning exhibition on this month: Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum. Inspired by his predecessor, architect Richard Meier donated a collage to the exhibition and museum, his interpretation of Wright’s early designs of the Guggenheim.
The Guggenheim is Meier’s favorite museum. It has been an inspiration to him ever since he first saw it in 1958, still a construction site of concrete and steel.
“It was little more than a concrete shell, but I was in awe as we moved through it,” he remembers. “If you had told me then that twenty years later I would have an opportunity to renovate a broom closet into the Aye Simon Reading Room I would not have believed it. This was an incredible opportunity for me as a young architect to add to the Guggenheim in some small way, and to think about Wright so extensively through the work of a project. I imagine that had I to do the design now, it might even be a little more Wrightian. Our styles are different. Wright’s ideas endure. The magnificence of the Guggenheim Museum endures.”
Since its opening in 1959, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim building has served as an inspiration for invention, challenging artists and architects to react to its eccentric, organic design. The central void of the rotunda has elicited many unique responses over the years, which have been manifested in both site-specific solo shows and memorable exhibition designs.
In designing the Guggenheim Museum, Wright flaunted the notion of the void, leaving the center tantalizingly (or threateningly) empty. Over the years, when creating site-specific installations or exhibition designs for the building, artists and architects have imbued the space with their presences, inspiring unforgettable works by Matthew Barney, Cai Guo-Qiang, Frank Gehry, Jenny Holzer, and Nam June Paik, among others.
For the building’s 50th anniversary, the Guggenheim invited scores of artists, architects, and designers to leave practicality or even reality behind in conjuring their proposals for the space. In this exhibition of ideal projects, certain themes emerge, including the return to nature in its primordial state, the desire to climb the building, the interplay of light and space, the interest in diaphanous effects as a counterpoint to the concrete structure, and the impact of sound on the environment. Conceived as both a commemoration and a self reflexive folly, Contemplating the Void confirms how truly catalytic the architecture of the Guggenheim can be.
Contemplating the Void will be accompanied by a comprehensive exhibition Web site, which will document each submission and feature introductory essays texts by Chief Curator Nancy Spector and Curator for Architecture and Design David Van der Leer.