Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guggenheim Museum: 5th Ave and 89th St


The NYC Guggenheim Museum's permanent collection is not really to my taste, but I was starting to feel a little embarrassed that after over 8 years of living in NYC I had never been there.  So this morning I made the trek to the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum at 10 am when it opened to check out what I had been missing (see the museum website for hours, admission, etc.:  I would strongly recommend that folks either visit this museum on weekdays or right as the museum opens--it gets crowded fast.

While the building architecture is really stunning to look at (it has been in innumerable movies) (see above right and below), the acoustics are horrible and the exhibition space is rather limited due to the central spiraling ramp.  The Guggenheim collection is so much larger than the display space that the exhibitions are frequently rotated and routinely the spiraling ramp is closed off for installations so visitors have to take the back stairs or the elevators.  I would have been very annoyed if that had been the case after I paid my $18 entrance fee.  Luckily everything was opened about a week ago and the museum's unique features were at their best.

Included in the regular entrance fee (and if $18 per person is too rich for your blood, check out the "pay what you want" evening visiting times), is a self-directed audio tour.  The installation is set up to go from bottom to top, but if you want to avoid the crowds (and relieve yourself from the "climb"), you may want to consider taking the elevator up to the top floor (7th) and viewing the art on the way down.  Not all the artwork have audio descriptions, but those that do have clear headphone illustrated signage and a corresponding number so I found going from top to bottom was more pleasant and easy enough to follow along on the audio tour.

I would also highly recommend going on the guided tour (offered 3 times a day starting by the information booth in the lobby).  Basically the docent has pre-selected 2-3 pieces to take the group to and leads a discussion about the works.  Not being a big fan of modern/cubist/non-objective art, I thought this might be a little tiresome, but I found it very informative and really interesting.  We discussed Paul Cezanne's "Man with Crossed Arms" (ca 1899)--noticing the beginnings of cubist perspectives, Frantisek Kupka's "Planes by Colors, Large Nude" (ca 1909-10)--noting the use of colors to illustrate feelings or auras, and Fernand Leger's "Nude Model in the Studio" (ca 1912-13) (see right, yeah, neither the docent nor any of us on the tour saw a nude in this either).  The docent also noted that today, February 19th, was the birthday of Constantin Brancusi, as we passed the sculpture of "Muse on Oak Base" (ca 1912).

The museum has a great collection of works by Kandinsky (on Level 3 by the cafe), and currently has a collection of videos sponsored by Deutsche Bank under the name "Found in Translation."  I liked the Kandinsky collection on display, but did not think much of the video art.  If you want to see the current exhibit online, you can check out  From there, you may be able to decide if the then-current exhibition is one in which you would be interested.

Finally, I would like to note that the museum is not really designed for visitor comfort.  There is a severe shortage of benches and with few windows, there is little room for taking a respite from the crowds.  Museum fatigue can set in pretty quickly so I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes, taking advantage of the free coat check, bringing a snack or two to munch on in the cafe (don't be surprised if every stool in the cafe is taken), and maybe even taking a break in the windowless reading room that has furniture made by Richard Meier.  Overall, I think the collection is magnificent for what it is, but I don't think I'll be visiting again, unless it is in the evening at a discount.

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