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Guggenheim in Bilbao Celebrates Frank Lloyd Wright with Exhibition
Scale model of the Guggenheim Museum. Photo: EFE/Luis Tejido.
BILBAO.- Fifty years after the opening of the acclaimed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao celebrates this iconic building’s golden anniversary by presenting Frank Lloyd Wright, the largest and most comprehensive exhibition that Europe has ever dedicated to one of the greatest architectural geniuses of the 20th-century.

The exhibition, to be held from October 22, 2009, through February 14, 2010, is co-organized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with the generous sponsorship of Iberdrola. It features 63 visionary architecture projects that range from private homes and civic and government buildings to religious and performance spaces, as well as unrealized urban mega-structures.

The show’s singular layout allows visitors to discover the heterogeneous nature of Wright’s designs in nearly 200 of the renowned architect’s original drawings together with 12 new scale models and digital animations that bring his unrealized projects to life. This comprehensive overview of his work will take on special significance in the context of a landmark of 20th-century architecture, namely the building designed by Frank Gehry to house the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

“For us, it is an honor to present this exhibition as a tribute to one of the great pioneers of modern architecture, and to offer visitors a singular chance to contemplate his visionary projects from an original perspective — and, displayed in the spaces designed by Frank Gehry, these works take on a whole new dimension,” says Juan Ignacio Vidarte, General Director of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Chief Officer for Global Strategies of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

From Within Outward
The Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit illuminates Wright’s pioneering contributions to the redefinition of architectural space; he emphasized the importance of a building’s interior space in shaping and informing its exterior, which constituted a central theme in his work. As Wright himself said, “The building is no longer a block of building material dealt with, artistically, from the outside. The room within is the great fact about building — the room to be expressed in the exterior as space enclosed.”

Few designs in Wright’s oeuvre illustrate the concept of designing “from within outward” as well as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, in which the interior form gives shape to the building’s exterior shell.

When this exhibition first opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in May of this year, the institution’s director Richard Armstrong stated, “Fifty years ago, the trajectories of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright became intertwined. When it opened in October 1959, the museum drew both criticism and admiration, but what was indisputable was that Wright had invented the art museum. How fitting that we open our fiftieth-anniversary celebrations with […] an exhibition that documents and challenges how architecture influences the way we live and how we experience art .”

While the trend in Western construction was to force individuals to adapt to a predetermined built space, Wright proposed the inversion of this dynamic by creating spaces “designed for living”.

According to Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is the primary source of loans for this exhibit, “Rather than a retrospective, this exhibition focuses on Wright’s belief in the power of space to transform our lives and takes a new look at his incredibly diverse range of imaginative solutions to the spatial needs of human beings which, from a creative perspective, can continue to provide valuable solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

During a career spanning over 70 years, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), who died just six months before the opening of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, worked independently, with a unique and personal style unlike that of his contemporaries which allowed him to develop a new sense of architecture. His belief that a building’s form should be designed to suit its function has influenced several generations of architects.

Whether creating a private home, an office building, a house of worship or a cultural center, Wright always sought to unite people, buildings and nature in physical and spiritual harmony, and he coined the term “organic architecture”.

Frank Lloyd Wright highlights this visionary architect’s quest for the integration of architecture with nature, which he pursued by creating environments of simplicity and repose that enhance the quality of life of their inhabitants. His buildings, of awe-inspiring beauty and tranquility, encourage social interaction by creating open spaces that flow from one room to the next. His innovative designs complement the surrounding environment of the site and intensify the physical, emotional and social experience of flowing, continuous space within them.

In his earliest designs, such as the Larkin Company Administration Building (Buffalo, New York, 1902– 06) and the Unity Temple (Oak Park, Illinois, 1905), Wright deconstructed the boxlike shapes used by his European contemporaries, opening up corners and using walls merely as screens to enclose tranquil interior spaces. Wright’s architecture is a translation of his conception of society into a spatial language that can be understood intuitively and enhances the everyday experience. While the great beauty of his work has led others to continue developing his idiom, the ambition of this exhibit is to celebrate the basic idea behind his architecture — the sense of freedom in interior space, inspiring visitors to see architecture’s potential for today and also for the future.

Overview of the exhibition
Taking up the entire second floor of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Lloyd Wright offers an almost chronological tour of the gifted architect’s most significant projects.

The exhibit begins in a gallery dedicated to the designs for two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s own homes, Taliesin and Taliesin West, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and Scottsdale, Arizona, respectively. Today they are campuses of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. This gallery also contains an original curtain depicting Wright’s native Wisconsin landscape from the 1952 Hillside Theater at Taliesin.

The exhibition continues with a chronological overview of his work, in the so called “classic galleries”, where visitors will find some of his most famous designs: the now-demolished Larkin Company Administration Building; the Unity Temple; the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium (Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland, 1924), which was never built; the S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Administration Building and Research Tower (Lakeland, Florida, 1945); the First Unitarian Society Meeting House (Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, 1946–52); the Huntington Hartford Sports Club / Play Resort (Hollywood, California, 1947), also never built; the Beth Sholom Synagogue (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1953-59); and the Marin County Civic Center (San Rafael, California, 1957–62), among others.

Frank Lloyd Wright also has a gallery dedicated to the architect’s vision for residential projects and homes, such as his celebrated "Fallingwater House" (Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1934–37) or the two homes he designed for Herbert Jacobs. Another of Gehry’s open, sinuous spaces features Wright’s ideal conception of the city and the urban environment with a display of his city planning projects, such as the unrealized Living City in which architecture and nature are harmoniously blended in spacious open settings. This gallery also contains Wright’s work on the commission he received from the city of Baghdad in 1957, one of the last projects he would ever create. Other urban designs shown here that were never built are Crystal City (Washington, D.C., 1940) and the Pittsburgh Point Park Civic Center (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1947).

Finally, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has set aside an entire gallery for one of the talented architect’s greatest achievements: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, 1943–59). His project for the museum is amply illustrated not only by his original drawings but also with archive photographs taken during its construction, the original scale model from the 1950s and a digitalized selection of correspondence between Frank Lloyd Wright and Hilla Rebay, the museum’s first curator and advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim.

Frank Lloyd Wright also boasts three-dimensional scale models, created especially for this exhibit, that examine the internal mechanics of functional space in relation to exterior form in a variety of Wright’s projects. Among them are an exploded version of the first Herbert Jacobs House (Madison, Wisconsin, 1936–37), a mirrored model of the Unity Temple and a model of the Beth Sholom Synagogue.

The models were developed and assembled by Michael Kennedy of the New York firm Kennedy Fabrications Inc., which specializes in architectural models and prototyping, and Situ Studio, a Brooklyn-based firm focused on research, design and fabrication.

Finally, a series of 3D computer animations give visitors a chance to experience an interpretation of nine of Wright’s projects. Some of these were actually built, such as his own home, Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1925–59), while others such as Arizona State Capital (Phoenix, Arizona, 1957) or the Central Post and Telegraph Building (Baghdad, 1957) were never realized. These digital recreations were designed by teams of students from the Interactive Spaces course, taught by Professor Allen Sayegh, at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and from Madison Area Technical College, with the assistance of Archi Zarzycki of arc.studio.3d and ZD Studios (both also of Madison).

The curatorial team of Frank Lloyd Wright includes Thomas Krens, Curator and Senior Advisor for International Affairs for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; David van der Leer, Assistant Curator of Architecture and Design, and Maria Nicanor, Curatorial Assistant, both for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; in collaboration with Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives; Margo Stipe, Curator and Registrar of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives; and Oskar Muñoz, Assistant Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives. Mina Marefat has served as curatorial consultant for the Baghdad module of the exhibition. The Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition installation has been designed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao | Frank Lloyd Wright | Frank Gehry | Juan Ignacio Vidarte |


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