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Theodora Koullias

A Critque on the Arts: The Guggenheim

By: Theodora Koullias
College Now Course - HUM 1

The cement was cold and wet. I looked down at my feet and anguished at the sight of my jeans soaking up all that water. A breeze blew by me, lifting my hair in the cold air as I shivered. I looked up at the old building and noticed the moss growing over the grey cemented facade between each crevice, desperately filling up all the cracks. The letters, clinging onto the building for dear life, like the last golden leaf of a plant in the autumn season, read "The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum." I sighed at the sight which beheld me. Museums, I thought, never looked like this. As I entered the swiveling doors, I wondered what I was in for.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, with its ancient Greek temple-like appearance, the outside of the Guggenheim boasts a poor comparison. Where once it was the acclaimed, innovative, concrete structure of designer Frank Lloyd Wright, now it is nothing more than the scaffolding projects of the Paratus Group, necessary for the up-keeping of the famous building. Designed in 1943, the structure of the museum embodied nature and architecture into one fantastic plasma, reminiscent of its proximity to Central Park.

Much like a nautilus shell, the museum begins at the top, and spirals downward, with continuous spaces flowing freely into each other. At the apex cleverly lies a window to the outside world, shedding light into the mysterious world before me, displayed as art and architecture, and everything in between. Thought some critics have argued that the complexity of Wright's structure has taken away from the pieces that are inside, for me, and for people alike, this has only served to enhance the beauty therein. Everything about the environment of the Guggenheim is geometric in shape and uninterrupted in form. The ceiling with its triangular lights contrasts with the undulating floor that twists and turns so effortlessly, that it is no wonder Wright's architecture is a symphony all its own. Though at times I was dizzied by the rotation of the building and the uneven flooring, I marveled as each bend revealed yet another piece of art, one as powerful and overwhelming as the place in which it was housed.

Perhaps the most inspiring part about the building itself was the view from the highest rotunda: a tunneling labyrinth from the focal point at the top, to the focus of the people at the bottom. Today, the exterior of the Guggenheim is in dire need of restoration. Of the twelve layers of paint plastered over the forty-six years of the building's existence, only the concrete surface remains. Monitoring of the cracking that has plagued the building since its opening in 1959, as well as laser survey technologies, will help to restore the museum to its original eloquence.

Most recently, the interior of the Guggenheim has been filled with Zaha Hadid's work. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied in Switzerland, England, and Lebanon before she pursued architectural studies in 1972. Her style, which began as a structured and rigid form, has now given way to more fluid and undulating shapes, complementing the interior of the Guggenheim itself. Her pieces, which are displayed in chronological order - the most recent being at the top of the rotunda - evidence this gradual change. Nevertheless, it was Hadid's rigidity that gave her fame as an architect. Fields, folds, ribbons, and clusters are some aspects of her contemporary practice. For several years, Hadid turned to painting to express this form, as seen in Vitra Fire Station and Victoria City Aerial, Berlin. But her primary interest lay in the insertion of "social condensers" into architecture. She wished to integrate public space in the dispersed 20th century to increase social contact, by creating spaces whose functions were undefined. Nowhere is this more evident than in my favorite architectural design, the Bergiesel Ski Jump, located in Innsbruck, Austria. The goal of this piece, which was completed in 2002, was to introduce a totally alien element into a given formula, Bergiesel Mountain. Much like the Guggenheim building, the ski jump represents a functional design that is smoothly articulated and fused into an organic unity. It seems appropriate to me that the two pieces of architecture that I found most interesting boasted the same characteristics: math and nature. At fifty meters tall and ninety meters long, the Bergiesel Ski Jump is as big a landmark in Austria, as the Guggenheim is in New York.

Making my way towards one of the extensions added onto the Guggenheim when more space was needed, I entered what was called the Thannhauser collection. Great, I thought, another modern representation of architecture, only this time with some funky name. But to my surprise, what I came upon was something other than architecture; something different than modem. The room was filled with what seemed like oil-on-canvas paintings surrounded by gold scalloped frames. I stumbled my way towards the one painting that caught my eye, and frankly, most everybody's eyes around me. L'Hermitage at Pontoise, as it was named, was a painting created in 1867 by Camille Pissarro. Born in the Caribbean in 1830, Pissaro was sent to Paris to become schooled, where a director noticed his interest in art. Urging him to take advantage of his skills, as well as his environment, he sent Pissaro home to paint coconut trees. What is so significant about Pissaro's paintings, which also manifests itself into L 'Hermitage, is the shadowing that he allows his paintings to consume. Originally guided by the way scenes and objects were imprinted in his mind, Pissaro made every aspect that he recorded onto his painting as faithful as possible. He perceived light as an inseparable entity from the things it illuminated. Thus, whether he painted with delicate or bold strokes of light, one could always distinguish his paintings from others'. Stunned at this revelation, I realized I had been looking at the painting for a long time. Perhaps it was the sense of sight that drew me to his craft, or the mere realm of emotion he had created. Whatever it was, I walked away thinking of the small houses and dirt road, shadowed by the overgrown trees, and how much they reminded me of towns in Greece. I walked away unable to find a piece as compelling as that of Pissaro's.

The idea of a museum trip on my day off from school made me shiver. I shunned the idea in my head, as well as on the way to the museum itself, as I thought of it ruining my day. How stupid, I thought, to be trapped in a place where only art can entertain you! I looked at my watch and felt the ticking of the minute hand struggle to pass the hour. I sighed. If only I had known what I was in for; if only I had known what the Guggenheim would mean to me; and if only I had known what would become of me as I entered through those swiveling doors.