Brâncuși in New York

Guggenheim Museum - Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)
Guggenheim Museum – Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)

The story of The Muse is a convoluted one. The sculpture, a highly stylized bust of a pensive woman made by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși in 1912, was purchased at auction in 1955 for $7,000 by Ileana Bulova, wife of Arde Bulova, the watch manufacturer. The sculpture was bequeathed to the Guggenheim Museum three years later under the terms of his will. But Mrs. Bulova claimed the work as her own, and in 1969 won an 11-year court battle for its return. The museum fought the Court of Appeals order, but lost, and in 1971 two deputy sheriffs removed the work after having signed a statement that they were doing so “over the stated objections” of the museum’s administration.

Guggenheim Museum - Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)
Guggenheim Museum – Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)

In 1981, Mrs. Ileana Bulova Lindt sold The Muse for $800,000 to the art dealer Andrew Crispo. Two years later, Mr Crispo ended up in jail over different matters, and in 1985 the sculpture returned to the Guggenheim, this time for good, after the museum paid more than $2 million to reacquire it. Still, a lot cheaper than the $37.1 million that the wooden sculpture Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.) fetched in 2009 when the collection of Saint Laurent and Berge was sold off at Christie’s in Paris.

Born in Romania in 1876, Constantin Brâncuși first studied sculpture at the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova (1894–98) and then at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest (1898–1902). It was a measure of his ambition that in 1904, at 27, he walked most of the way from Romania to Paris to complete his art studies here, at the École des Beaux-Arts (1905–07). In Paris he was welcomed by a community of artists and intellectuals including Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Marcel Duchamp. Three years later, at the age of 30, the sculptor’s career seemed to look up when he joined the studio of the French master Auguste Rodin, who was then at the height of his career. But after just one month, he walked out.

Years later his explanation became famous: “Nothing grows beneath great trees.” Yet Brâncuși was clearly escaping more than Rodin’s immense shadow. Brâncuși rejected Rodin’s 19th century emphasis on theatricality and accumulation of detail in favour of radical simplification and abbreviation. He was in search of new forms, and he concluded, “I had to find my own path.” The wisdom of this break was soon apparent. He suppressed all decoration and explicit narrative referents in an effort to create pure and resonant forms. His goal was to capture the essence of his subjects and render them visible with minimal formal means. Within a year his stone sculpture “The Kiss”, two cubic heads kissing, marked a change of direction. In 1909, with his first Sleeping Muse, a marble ovoid head with delicate stylized features lying peacefully on its side, Brâncuși began to earn his place as a central figure of modern sculpture.

The Kiss
The Kiss
The Met - Sleeping Muse, 1910 (Bronze)
The Met – Sleeping Muse, 1910 (Bronze)

Although Brâncuși lived the last 53 years of his life in Paris, his importance was first recognized in the United States. “Without the Americans, I could never have produced all that, nor even perhaps have existed,” he said to the New York Times in 1955 when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum celebrated his work with the first museum retrospective of his work. Brâncuși’s second Guggenheim retrospective occurred in 1969, and was held in the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda. He also felt at home in the United States. “When I approached New York on the boat,” he noted after his first visit in 1926, “I had the impression of seeing my studio on a large scale.”

It was this first visit to New York in 1926 and the city’s ascending architecture that gave him the initial idea for the Endless Column series, originally conceiving the work as a piece of architecture. It was important to him to have an Endless Column placed outside and in 1935 he was asked to submit a design for a memorial to Romanian soldiers fallen in WWI at the site in Târgu-Jiu. Endless Column became the major element in this memorial, 30 meters high and built of fifteen cast iron rhomboids, stacked one above the other. Its difference from all other sculpture before it lies in its particular suggestion of infinity, which is achieved by the repetition of identical units, and it is worth drawing a comparison with Le Corbusier’s Pavillion de l’Esprit Nouveau, designed for the 1925 Arts Décoratifs exhibition, which like Endless Column was also conceived of a series of stacked units. Le Corbusier was a frequent visitor to Brâncuși’s studio in the 1920s and this would certainly have had an impact on Brâncuși’s knowledge of forward thinking architectural developments of the time.

Endless Column, Târgu Jiu
Endless Column, Târgu Jiu

He made his debut in New York in 1913 at the Armory Show, where the sculptor exhibited five works that directed modern sculpture on a radical new path. His sculptures ignited a crucial shift in the tradition of American and European sculpture by distilling representational forms down to their most essential elements. His influence also extended well beyond sculpture, as explained by museum director and Brâncuși expert Pontus Hulten is his 1983 essay, Brâncuși and the Concept of Sculpture. “Among the painters of that generation, Frank Stella was drawn most to Brâncuși’s simplicity of form. The origins in Stella’s early work are only comprehensive by his study of the asymmetry and superposition of elementary forms as seen in Brâncuși’s sculpture.”

His popularity in New York and the United States grew over the following years. MoMA included works by Brâncuși in more than ten group exhibitions between 1934 and his death in 1957.

MoMA (from left to right) Blond Negress, II, 1933 (Bronze on four-part pedestal of marble, limestone, and two oak sections carved by Brâncuși) The Cock, 1924 (Cherry) Bird in Space, 1928 (Bronze) Mlle Pogany version I, 1913 (Bronze with black patina on limestone base) Maiastra, 1910-12 (White marble on three-part limestone of which the middle section is double caryatid c. 1908) Socrates, 1922 (Oak on oak footing with limestone cylinder)
MoMA (from left to right)
Blond Negress, II, 1933 (Bronze on four-part pedestal of marble, limestone, and two oak sections carved by Brâncuși)
The Cock, 1924 (Cherry)
Bird in Space, 1928 (Bronze)
Mlle Pogany version I, 1913 (Bronze with black patina on limestone base)
Maiastra, 1910-12 (White marble on three-part limestone of which the middle section is double caryatid c. 1908)
Socrates, 1922 (Oak on oak footing with limestone cylinder)

In 1926, Brâncuși created a sculpture of Bird in Space (now in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum) and sent it from Paris to New York City for an exhibition of his work at the Brummer Gallery (curated by his great friend and advocate Marcel Duchamp). Although the law permitted artworks, including sculpture, to enter the US free from import taxes, when Bird in Space arrived, officials refused to let it enter as art. To qualify as “sculpture”, works had to be “reproductions by carving or casting, imitations of natural objects, chiefly the human form”. Because Bird in Space did not look much like a bird at all, officials classified it as a utilitarian object (under “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies”!!) and levied against it 40% of the work’s value. Bewildered and exasperated by this assessment, Brâncuși launched a complaint in court in defence of Bird in Space.

The Met - Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)
The Met – Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)

The initial question before the court was whether Brâncuși’s work adequately resembled that which it was supposed to “imitate”, as indicated by its title. Passing that test would make it a sculpture (and therefore art) and exempt it from customs duties. The task of the trial became, however, how to define “sculpture” and, for that matter, “art”. Testimony was provided by a number of experts, including the sculpture’s owner, Edward Steichen, an artist and future director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, as well as British sculptor Jacob Epstein and Brooklyn Museum Director William Henry Fox. During his testimony, the art critic Frank Crowninshield was asked by the court what it was about the object which would lead him to believe it was a bird. He responded: “It has the suggestion of flight, it suggests grace, aspiration, vigour, coupled with speed in the spirit of strength, potency, beauty, just as a bird does. But just the name, the title, of this work, why, really, it does not mean much”.

Ultimately, the court was persuaded that its definition of what constituted art was out of date. The decision of Judge J. Waite read, “In the meanwhile there has been developing a so-called new school of art, whose exponents attempt to portray abstract ideas rather than imitate natural objects. Whether or not we are in sympathy with these newer ideas and the schools which represent them, we think the facts of their existence and their influence upon the art worlds as recognized by the courts must be considered”.

The judge dropped the fee, which was a triumphant victory for Brâncuși and his contemporaries in Paris and America. In the second exhibition of Brâncuși’s work at Brummer Gallery, curated by Duchamp in 1933, Art News wrote that Brâncuși “tries to open for us portals into an ageless world of deep and simple satisfactions. He seeks to re-awaken that childlike sense of wonder, which the standardised efficiencies of modern living have almost killed”. The mood of this particular response reflects the fact that this exhibition took place during the Great Depression and a correspondingly dormant art market. It is amazing that such an undertaking was accomplished in those times and speaks volumes of Brâncuși’s popularity and the loyalty of his American admirers despite the damaged economy. In fact, without his American enthusiasts Brâncuși probably would not have been able to produce or even exist during this period, as the Paris avant-garde did not benefit from any state or institutional aid and depended on the continuous support of enlightened sponsors.

On 15 July MoMA will re-enact the 1926 trial with the original documents at hand in a public gallery session that reflects on the constant process of defining and redefining art. Before then, on 2 July another public gallery session at MoMA will explore the extraordinary life and work of Constantin Brâncuși, focusing on how the unique combination of his Romanian heritage and his involvement with members of the School of Paris had a major influence on his work.

In the 90 years since Constantin Brâncuși first conceived Bird in Space, our understanding of what constitutes an artwork, and for that matter, who can occupy the role of artist, has become broader and more inclusive.

MoMA - Bird in Space, 1928 (Bronze)
MoMA – Bird in Space, 1928 (Bronze)

The development of the bird theme in Constantin Brâncuși’s oeuvre can be traced from its appearance in the Maiastra sculptures (1910–18) through the Golden Bird (L’Oiseau d’or, 1919) group and, finally, to the Bird in Space series. Sixteen examples of the Bird in Space (L’Oiseau dans l’espace, 1923–40) sequence, dating from 1923 to 1940, have been identified. The streamlined form of the Bird in Space, stripped of individualizing features, communicates the notion of flight itself rather than describing the appearance of a particular bird.

MoMA - Maiastra, 1910-12 (White marble on three-part limestone of which the middle section is double caryatid c. 1908)
MoMA – Maiastra, 1910-12 (White marble on three-part limestone of which the middle section is double caryatid c. 1908)

Brâncuși found the secret of being an eternally popular avant-gardist: make it simple. He was largely unscathed by Cubism and its challenging difficulty. Instead of fracturing reality like Picasso, Braque and company, Brâncuși (and later Modigliani) streamlined it, jettisoning all but the bare necessities of representation. He made it simple but kept it legible.

He grounded the new in the old, in an accessible, comforting way. In his hands the modern became welcoming, not aloof; human, not alien; round and vulnerable, not angular and defensive. As with van Gogh, his visual style is implicitly lovable, and loved for itself, not because the artist’s life story is sensational or stereotypically bohemian.

The modernity of Brâncuși’s art lies in the fact that he created artistic equivalents for, rather than imitating the forms of nature. As child he had contact with simple geometric forms, as the Byzantine tradition was still alive in Romania and this, linked with his interest in Eastern philosophy was important in his approach to his work. Once he had discovered his principle themes he perfected them tirelessly until his death in 1957. Brâncuși was certainly a master in utilising the specific qualities of the material to his advantage; he was the first Modernist sculptor to polish bronze to the point of obtaining a reflective surface; when working in marble he drew inspiration from its veined surface and when using wood, the grain of the material was of utmost importance. Brâncuși felt that the form should come from within the material itself and it was only by gazing at it for a long time that a complete fusion of mind and matter could be achieved. As he best summed up, “In art, one does not aim for simplicity; one achieves it unintentionally as one gets closer to the real meaning of things”.

Brâncuși’s work not only reveals the link between the archaic and the modern, but also capitalizes on that link. Picasso learned from African, prehistoric and Romanesque sculpture; Brancusi brilliantly updated their powerful forms with his refined surfaces and Art Deco suaveness. Sitting on their limestone and marble pedestals, his compact forms operate in the gap between Stone Age and space age. Even though he was a man of his time, he did not want his work to form part of the history of his time, he wanted to create eternal and universal works.

Brâncuși’s importance as a sculptor also lies in the emphasis he gave to his hand carved bases, which as abstract forms exist in their own right. Cubes, cylinders, hemicylinders, truncated pyramids, serrated forms and Greek cross shapes were combined at will and regularly took apart and reassembled. The status of his bases as works of art is an important issue in the development of 20th century sculpture. Central to Renaissance tradition had been the concept that sculpture should be isolated from its surroundings and that the base should serve to enhance this isolation. Brâncuși was now beginning to redraw the boundaries of art; it was important to him for the base to be part of rather than separate from the sculpture, yet there had to be some distinction between the two parts. This differentiation was often achieved by combining different materials and the vertical, soaring movement was arrived at by positioning forms in a rhythm that rises in a crescendo, lifting the sculpture to an indefinable summit, to the degree that the rooster’s crowing is almost audible in the serrated shape of The Cock . The bases, with their varying degrees of vertical emphasis can be compared to Endless Column; the conception of a pillar that holds earth and sky apart is central to a cosmological system in which the infinite can be attained by departing from this world. Brâncuși’s combination and recombination of bases in terms of sculptural mobility corresponds to the variability and experimental openness of modernism, but it was also significant from a philosophical point of view, as he eloquently expressed, “We are on a sphere; we play with other spheres; we combine them, we make them sparkle”.

MoMA - The Cock, 1924 (Cherry)
MoMA – The Cock, 1924 (Cherry)

As important to him as the form of his sculptures were the materials he worked with: stone, marble, bronze, metal and wood. Even cherry wood! He worked slowly, meticulously, usually with a small hammer, allowing the material, he would say, to speak for itself. “Matter must continue its natural life when modified by the hand of the sculptor,” he once explained. And on another occasion: “The artist should know how to dig out the being that is within matter.” Polishing, which he did by hand until his marble and bronze pieces achieved a shimmering and fragile translucency, was crucial to his vision of his work. “I think a true form should suggest infinity,” he said, “the surfaces cut to look as if they went on forever, as though they proceeded out from the mass into some perfect and complete existence.”

Brâncuși often depicted the human head, another favourite subject, as a unitary ovoid shape separate from the body. When placed on its side, it evokes images of repose. Some of Brâncuși’s streamlined oval heads, whose forms recall Indian fertility sculptures in their fusion of egglike and phallic shapes, suggest the miracle of creation.

Brâncuși’s Muse is a subtle monument to the aesthetic act and to the myth that woman is its inspiration. The finely chiselled and smoothly honed head is poised atop a sinuous neck, the curve of which is counterbalanced by a fragmentary arm pressed against the ear. The facial features, although barely articulated, embody the proportions of classical beauty. As in the sculptor’s Mlle Pogany, the subject’s hair is coiffed in a bun at the base of the neck. But while Mlle Pogany is the image of a particular woman, The Muse is the embodiment of an ideal.

Guggenheim Museum - Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)
Guggenheim Museum – Muse, 1912 (Marble on oak base)
MoMA - Mlle Pogany version I, 1913 (Bronze with black patina on limestone base)
MoMA – Mlle Pogany version I, 1913 (Bronze with black patina on limestone base)

The beautiful, elegant, intelligent, sexually liberated and charismatic Nancy Cunard was sculpted numerous times by Brâncuși (Nancy was unaware of two until photographs arrived from the Guggenheim Museum) and we’ll have to decide for ourselves if Brâncuși saw her as the embodiment of an ideal or simply a beautiful woman.

The Met - Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)
The Met – Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)
The Met - Nancy Cunard, 1925 Gelatin silver print; 27.5 x 21.2 cm (10 13/16 x 8 3/8 in. ) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Winthrop Edey, 1999 (1999.367.4) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/283335
The Met – Nancy Cunard, 1925 (Gelatin silver print)
The Met - Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)
The Met – Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

In the November 2, 1959 issue, LIFE magazine paid tribute to Wright and to his eye-popping 5th Avenue museum this way:

Last week, six months after he died, the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright came triumphantly to life again in New York City. The revolutionary art museum he designed for Solomon R. Guggenheim was finally opened to the public. While it was under construction, the museum was the constant butt of jokes. Its cylindrical exterior was likened to everything from a washing machine to a marshmallow.

The inside of the new Guggenheim Museum proved to be far more sensational than the outside. To the visitors who streamed through, it seemed like the inside of a giant snail shell… The museum was greeted with a barrage of praise and protest. Architects hailed the “fantastic structure”, museum directors complained of the slanting floors and walls. An art critic called it “America’s most beautiful building”, a newspaper labeled it a “joyous monstrosity”. Everyone agreed on one thing — the building was definitely dizzying. This physical reaction would have pleased Wright who predicted, “When it is finished and you go into it, you will feel the building. You will feel it as a curving wave that never breaks.”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York was developed from 1943 to 1945. Solomon Guggenheim died in 1949 and it is doubtful that the museum would ever have been built if its construction had not been stipulated in his will. Work did not start until 1956 and the building was completed only in 1959, six months after Wright died.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

What we see today, and this was the case from the time the doors opened, is not the museum Wright and his client had in mind. Solomon Guggenheim’s museum was purpose-designed to fit a radical idea of how art should be displayed, based on an extreme form of abstract painting in the 1940s called “non-objective” art. After Guggenheim’s death, the highly idiosyncratic museum that Wright created in painstaking collaboration with his patron’s ideas were turned into another kind of museum, fighting back all the way. It kept its basic form, but the original concept that the form served was abandoned. The transformation that took place in how the building is used is the cause of many of its well-publicised problems. The museum has been under attack by critics and curators ever since, unaware of the sources of the trouble and unwilling to acknowledge them. But the iconic form of the Guggenheim is so powerful, and essentially indestructible, that is has survived the corruption of its purpose to become an international landmark.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The practitioners of non-objective art believed that they had freed painting from all references to recognizable objects, for an artistic breakthrough that superseded the reflections of the real world that artists have traditionally produced. They claimed to have created a new kind of reality that extended pictorial space beyond the picture frame into real space, and that any division between the two ceased to exist. By experiencing paintings in this new way, the theory went – in a sense, by becoming part of them – viewers could reach a new understanding of art and reality. The harmony thus achieved would become a feeling of inner serenity, of oneness with the world, which, if universally practiced, could lead to world peace. Or so Solomon Guggenheim was willing to believe, under the tutelage of a young German artist, the Baroness Hilla Rebay, whose persuasive skills had converted him to the cause of non-objective art that he now collected exclusively.

Irene Guggenheim, Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim
Irene Guggenheim, Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim

Wright was asked to design a building that would serve this new and different way of seeing and understanding art. Rebay described it as a temple where a transcendental revelation would take place. As director and curator, she was to have a penthouse apartment in its upper reaches for as long as she lived. When both she and Guggenheim died, the collection would be frozen, nothing ever added, subtracted or changed. This wildly overreaching concept of art as a mystical route to everything from spiritual self-realization to peace among nations was promoted by Rebay with messianic conviction and Guggenheim’s backing and money.

He had already amassed an impressive collection of canvases by the best non-objective artists, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst, Jean Arp and Hans Richter, work that has stood the test of time and the disappearance of its bizarre theories, as well as a disproportionate number by a lesser member of the group, Rudolf Bauer, whom Rebay particularly favoured. In the collection’s temporary, pre-Wright quarters in a midtown Manhattan town house, the pictures floated in a luminous glow against pleated gray fabric, close to the gray-carpeted floor, the hushed galleries broken only by softly piped-in classical mood music. The design and installation were meant to lull the visitor into a state of sleep, oops, make that into a state of passive receptivity to the paintings’ spiritual presence and message.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

When Rebay contacted Wright, she clearly expected him to go beyond the conventional norms of museum design. With his Emersonian background and beliefs, he was no stranger to the transcendental. He was not, however, about to create some cloud-cuckoo-land. What he took as his mandate was second nature to him – a release from convention, the freedom to redefine a building type, in this case to rethink the art museum in an unprecedented way. He was well-practiced in this kind of reconfiguration and, not surprisingly, he found some of the rethinking he had already been doing was instantly applicable, either by good fortune or, more likely, because he willed it to be so. He returned to an idea that had preoccupied him for many years; the search for a plastic, sculptural architecture that would be unbroken by conventional walls and floors, where mass and space were one – a concept that was to become architecture’s leading edge by the end of the 20th century.

The search for a plastic, free-flowing architecture with spaces that interact on many levels preoccupied him throughout his career, but architecture’s more sculptural aspects would not be fully explored until computer assisted drawing made it possible to plot complex shapes with astounding structural and economic accuracy. As usual, Wright was pushing design and technology far into the future. The spiral, the circle, the dome and the cantilever dominated much of his late work, in churches, community facilities and public buildings.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The only material available in the 1940s that could produce the sculptural shapes Wright sought was the still relatively new one of reinforced concrete, formed painstakingly in wooden molds. The structural calculations for curved surfaces departed radically from those used for “the stratified layers of post and beam”, as Wright put it; the change from straight-lined and rectilinear, he explained, had to be figured in terms of “the cantilever and continuity”. But without the computer, and with far less advanced materials and techniques, the technology of the 1940s and ’50s was often inadequate to the task. With all its imperfections, however, the Guggenheim stands as an acknowledged model and inspiration for those architects that later did the most creative work.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

From the outside, the Guggenheim Museum looks like a cylinder, or an inverted ziggurat once one notices the outward slant to the top. A series of stacked volumes grow wider as they rise to a glass dome; these layers are separated by a continuous glass band meant to bring daylight to the spiral ramp inside. A ledge along the ramp was to be used like an easel for the display of paintings that were to receive natural light from the encircling glass. A round service core that Wright called the “monitor” intersects the larger circle of the ramp on one side. He wanted the visitor to take the elevator up to the top and “drift down” the spiral to the open space on the ground. From there, the full ramp is visible, its drama culminating in the skylit dome. The building makes no bow to the neighbouring apartment houses. Its freestanding sculpture establishes a powerful presence on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park, but the rounded contours suggest the “organic” nature of the park across the street. A block-long horizontal base on which the slightly receding cylinder appears to rest anchors its strong forms and establishes a relationship to the street and the site, at a mediating scale.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

When construction was about to begin, the Department of Buildings found multiple violations and refused to issue a building permit – an old story to Wright, who consistently built without one. Since the violations could not be corrected without destroying the unusual structure and the open plan, help was sought from the all-powerful Robert Moses, then New York’s building czar, who happened, conveniently, to be a relative of Wright’s by marriage. Moses, a ultraconversative architecturally, had no love for the building, but the permit was issued without further delay. No builder could be found who wanted to brave the inevitable technical problems of the unprecedented construction, until former apprentice Edgar Tafel appeared with someone willing to take the challenge. Wright insisted on sharing credit on the cornerstone with the builder, George N. Cohen, who more than earned the recognition.

Wright got along well with Harry Guggenheim, Solomon’s nephew, who headed up the project after his uncle’s death; another volume of cantankerous and amusing letters was added to Wright’s growing collection. But Harry Guggenheim wanted no-nonsense with theories and budgets; he delayed construction because of the high cost of building and shortages of materials after the war. There were design compromises and changes in program and policy. The museum was no longer dedicated to non-objective art or exclusively to Solomon Guggenheim’s collection, nor would anything be displayed in the manner that had been envisioned. The family had long viewed Hilla Rebay as a lady Svengali whose power over Solomon extended from the paintings he purchased to the strange theories she espoused and the bizarre medical cures she recommended. She was removed as director and the penthouse apartment with a park view disappeared from the plans. A new board was established and a new director brought in, James Johnson Sweeney, who was violently opposed to every premise on which Wright’s design was based; he made changes that sabotaged the building in every way possible.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Sweeney, who came from the Museum of Modern Art and had helped to establish its style and standards, did his best to remake the Guggenheim in that fashionable institution’s image. The idea of a permanently fixed collection was dropped for a policy of acquisitions, diversity and temporary exhibitions, although none of the necessary storage, preparation or display space had been provided under the earlier program. Granted that the original concept was curious, and might have been more curious in execution, the process of obliteration was brutal. Sweeney painted Wright’s soft ivory interiors white – Wright avoided and abhorred white – and substituted artificial light at the top of the ramp’s outer walls. All this was done to create the kind of shadowless, neutral ambience favoured by the modernists whom Wright had battled with all his life. Sweeney ignored Wright’s easel like resting places and drove metal rods into the walls to suspend pictures far enough away from the distracting tilt and curve of the ramp to defeat the illusion that everything on it was off axis. The rods are still there!

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

At some point, the top of the spiral was shut for storage, amputating its ascent, hiding the domed skylight that was the climax of the design. But although Wright died before the Guggenheim’s completion, he fought Sweeney to a draw from the grave, and Sweeney resigned in apoplectic frustration after a year in the job.

The building has continued to frustrate every director since, as each as tried to make peace with its demanding personality and physical challenges. What has survived, by default, is Wright’s basic, powerful idea of unified space and structure. It has overridden the continuing controversies about its use and practicality, the indignities of antagonistic installations, two “restorations” and a brace of additions. Whatever the dramatic, spiraling interior lacks in flexibility for exhibition purposes – and the most serious charge leveled against it is that the architecture trumps the art – this soaring volume with its encircling ramps is an intensely moving experience. The impact is visual and visceral; it involves all the senses. The building is alive; the movement of people and their murmurous sound, the surrounding colour and form, redefine social space and the way art is seen and felt within it, although certainly not as originally intended.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

And they have a Brâncuși sculpture!

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Philip Johnson’s Glass House

It’s tiny!

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Well, the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut is bigger.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

When Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was featured in LIFE magazine soon after its completion in 1949, architects and designers downed martinis at the Oyster Bar, pondering the future of the International Style. But that probably wasn’t what most people were thinking about as they looked at the pictures. They likely wondered: How could he actually live in a clear box, without walls, without privacy, without any stuff?

The answer was Philip Johnson never really did live in the Glass House. At least not in the self-contained sense in which the rest of us occupy our homes. Instead, the Glass House was merely the focal point of what eventually grew to be a veritable architectural theme park on 49 meticulously tended acres, comprising 14 structures, in which Johnson and David Whitney, the collector and curator who met him in 1960 and became his life partner, and who died just months after Johnson, enjoyed their impossibly glamorous weekend existence.

From the bunker­like Brick House where Johnson often slept and the tiny, turreted, post­modern Library where he worked surrounded by architecture books, to Calluna Farms, the 1905 shingled farmhouse and the subterranean art gallery, the collection of buildings formed Johnson’s idea of the perfect deconstructed home.

Brick House
Brick House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Library
Library

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Ghost House
Ghost House

Johnson bought Calluna Farms for Whitney in 1981. Whitney got rid of the suburban pool and tennis court, reduced five bedrooms to two and kept only one bathroom. Calluna’s kitchen had no dishwasher, and only a modest refrigerator, alongside Whitney’s impressive collection of copper cookware and dozens of well-worn cookbooks. Whitney made a famous fish chowder luncheon every year when his peony and iris garden burst into bloom, and he was as exacting in his housewares as he was in his art and design collections (his estate was sold at Sotheby’s in 2006 to add to the endowment for the property).

Calluna Farms
Calluna Farms

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Grainger, bought by Whitney in 1990, became the couple’s version of a man cave. He stripped it down to its 18th century footprint, painted it matte-black and installed a striking Michael Heizer window etched with mysterious lines. It had an early Pioneer flat-screen TV, but no bathroom. Sitting in coordinated, bodacious plaid chairs designed by Mattia Bonetti, Johnson and Whitney watched Stanley Kubrick films, “Easy Rider” and “The Graduate,” or noodled with custom-made wooden puzzles of artworks, some of which they owned, including a nine-panel portrait by Andy Warhol.

Grainger
Grainger

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Popestead
Popestead
Pavillion
Pavillion

Whitney, over his years with Johnson (the two met when the 54-year-old architect gave a lecture at Brown; 21-year-old Whitney came up afterward and was invited on a tour of the Glass House), became an important art advisor and independent curator. By 1965, the couple had acquired so much art that Johnson designed the Painting Gallery to give it room to breathe. The subterranean gallery is an artwork itself — an earthwork — cut into the hillside above the Glass House. Inside, paintings by Johns, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Warhol, who Whitney talked to regularly on the phone, were displayed on rotating panels, like giant flip­books. In 1970, Johnson added the Sculpture Gallery at the north end of the property.

Art Gallery
Art Gallery

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Sculpture Gallery
Sculpture Gallery

Philip Johnson's Glass House

In the beginning, there were just two buildings: the Glass House and the Brick House, both about 15m long and finished within months of each other in 1949 on a five-acre plot, with a 30m wide grassy court separating them. History has downplayed the Brick House — from the outside it’s plain and it doesn’t fit well with the people-in-glass-houses narrative — ­but Johnson always knew it would be impossible to live entirely in the open, so he built a place to get some privacy.

The rest of the buildings came naturally, if gradually. The idea of having a slew of small houses for different activities, moods and seasons, complemented by decorative “follies”, was Johnson’s conception for the site from early on. He called it a “diary of an eccentric architect”, but it was also a sketchbook, an homage to architects past and present, and to friends like the dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein, after whom Johnson named one of the follies he built on the property, a 9m high tower made of painted concrete blocks.

Memorial to Lincoln Kirstein
Memorial to Lincoln Kirstein

In contrast to their whirlwind weekday world in Manhattan, Johnson and Whitney saw life in New Canaan as perpetual camping, albeit of a luxurious, minimalist sort. Neither Grainger nor the 35 square meters Library has a bathroom, though both are air-conditioned, unlike the Glass House, which relies on cross ventilation. It originally had heating pipes in the ceiling and the floor, but the ceiling pipes reportedly froze early on and were never adequately repaired. To compensate, on particularly cold winter days the temperature of the water flowing through the radiant heated floors was turned up to nearly 200 degrees. “You couldn’t go in there with bare feet,” Port Draper, the contractor who maintained the house for many years, recalled in The Times in 2007. Johnson was unbothered by the house’s leaks, a problem endemic to a flat roof. Frank Lloyd Wright once referred to one of his houses as a “two-bucket house”, according to Robert A. M. Stern, to which Johnson gaily replied, “Oh, that’s nothing, Frank. Mine’s a four-bucket house. One in each corner.”

While the Glass House was designed with areas for dining, living and sleeping, loosely divided by low cabinetry and a brick cylinder holding the chimney and bathroom, it functioned more as a living space, an occasional office for Johnson and a place to throw parties (lots of them, attended in the early years by a coterie of young Yale architecture students, and later by the likes of Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Fran Lebowitz and Agnes Gund). The house was astonishingly ornament-free. “I don’t think clutter was allowed,” the painter Jasper Johns, a friend of both men, once said. “One was always aware of their ruthless elegance.”

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

The sparseness of the Glass House makes it hard to think about messy things like eating, but even the wiry Johnson needed sustenance: Whitney, an accomplished amateur chef, cooked for them at times in the tiny Glass House kitchen.

The Brick House was originally divided into three rooms­— with real walls — each with a porthole window. It was intended for guests, but Johnson soon realized the problem with a guest house is you wind up with overnight guests! And the sun blasted into the Glass House at sunrise. So in 1953, he remodeled the Brick House, making his first break with modernism by creating a luxurious, cocoon­like master bedroom, with a vaulted ceiling and Fortuny-covered walls and plush carpet, as well as a reading room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The bedroom’s slender columns, and the Pavilion he designed for the pond in 1962, both read as trial runs for the thin, white, shapely architecture of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

For Johnson, the landscape — both viewed from inside the Glass House and as he walked briskly from one building to another — was as important as the structures. There are only two pieces of art from Johnson’s collection in the Glass House: an Elie Nadelman sculpture and a landscape from the school of the 17th­century artist Nicolas Poussin, on a stand in the middle of the space.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion, Nicolas Poussin
Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion, Nicolas Poussin

The painting was a great inspiration to Johnson — he removed and trimmed trees on the area around the house to create more orderly views, allowed some grasses to grow tall while others were close-cropped. Richard Kelly, who did the moody lighting for Johnson and Mies van der Rohe’s Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, collaborated with Johnson on lighting the area around the house, ensuring that at night, the outside would come alive.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Despite the extraordinary portfolio of buildings he left behind Philip Johnson never thought of himself as a master architect. A fair number of critics agree, citing the excesses of the AT&T Building and reminding us that the Glass House itself was derivative of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which Johnson openly acknowledged as an inspiration.

Farnsworth House

By 1942 Johnson was infatuated with Mies van der Rohe, the most aesthetic of the German exiles, whom he had first met in Europe. The first of his Miesian homages was a little town house near Harvard. After the war there followed Johnson’s masterpiece, the Glass House, completed in 1949. Inspired by Mies’s Farnsworth House but finished first (Mies was none too pleased about this), it became the first of the bold, cold, minimal glass boxes in landscapes which remained in high-class architectural fashion for the next 20 years.

Hugh Howard’s entertaining double biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, “Architecture’s Odd Couple”, traces the career of these two extraordinarily long-lived designers from before the beginning of the 20th century until almost the end of it. Johnson is presented as an opportunist, a dilettante and a showman, better at finessing the social, bureaucratic and economic obstacles to building than at actual design. Wright had ideas and made them manifest; Johnson played with ideas and made them sexy.

“He built one great house — his own, of glass — and contributed to one great urban building, a monument to whiskey,” Howard writes of Johnson’s best work, the Glass House, and the Seagram’s Building in New York, which he worked on in partnership with Mies van der Rohe. Johnson was “an aesthete, not an artist.” By contrast, “Wright’s work transcended style and even time.” And, “Wright’s genius was, quite simply, of a greater magnitude than Johnson’s.”

Johnson was a unique phenomenon. Among architects, his egotism and courage put him closest to Frank Lloyd Wright, who teased and bullied him for 25 years and helped liberate his architectural thinking. But as designers, they were never in the same class.

Wright called the Seagram building "Wiskey building on a pink tray."
Wright called the Seagram building “Wiskey building on a pink tray.”

He was one of the greatest curators of the 20th century, bringing together artists, builders, architects and the people with the money, taste and guts to commission works of art made of I-beams, concrete, glass, marble and the occasional leaky roof. “I guess I can’t be a great architect,” Johnson once said. “Great architects have a recognizable style. But if every building I did were the same, it would be pretty boring.” That’s a put down, if I ever heard one.

The Glass House —­ always wise in the ways of branding, Johnson preferred that the entire compound be referred to as such — may be his supreme achievement in the art of not being boring. A living museum of American style, it’s a monument to his endlessly inquisitive and acquisitive nature.

He was for half a century the doyen of architectural opportunists. When modernist austerity was an aesthetic cause, he was in the vanguard. When the business of American architecture seemed to be business, he was its slickest salesman. Postmodernism was partly of his making. Then, when deconstruction hit New York, there was Johnson in his 80s in the thick of the theorists, networking, promoting favourites and talking, always talking. Johnson, in a letter to his mentor, Alfred Barr, MoMA’s first director, said: “What I most want to do is to be influential.” Johnson’s measure of success was the amount of publicity he received.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

If Johnson was always ahead of the architectural game, he never actually invented it. It has been said that he was the second to do everything. A second-class creative figure with a first-class brain and boundless wealth, charm and wit. Johnson came from a rich Wasp family from Cleveland, where his father was an attorney. Further money came from his mother’s side. One of four children, Philip shone at school and, in 1923, was admitted to Harvard without an exam. The next year his father handed down a high proportion of his fortune. The girls got cash, while Johnson acquired Alcoa stock, the source of a lifelong self-indulgence.

In personality, he was half monster, half paragon of urbanity. An engagement with fascism in the 1930s never impeded his career. Antisemitic, anti-black, no respecter of women or children, he had many Jewish colleagues and clients, at least one black lover, and numerous women friends who received presents when their children or grandchildren were born. Flamboyantly gay, he admitted to four “Mrs Johnsons”, of whom the last, David Whitney, was his companion for over 40 years.

Johnson has had a baleful influence on postmodern business architecture all over the world. In London, for instance, the insincere granite cladding of Canary Wharf owes much to his example. The professional style of Johnson’s career may prove to have made a more lasting impact than his buildings. It offers a reminder that the basest superficiality and the highest purposes of art coexist strangely in architecture.

As always, art appreciation made little bears hungry 🙂

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Delicious!

Solé Ristorante, 105 Elm St, New Canaan, CT 06840
Solé Ristorante, 105 Elm St, New Canaan, CT 06840

Back to Manhattan on the train.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

In 1935, H.F. Johnson, Jr., third generation company leader of the cleaning products company SC Johnson, returned from his historic trip to Fortaleza, Brazil, invigorated and energetic. At that time, designs were in development for the company’s Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin. With his renewed outlook, Johnson sought out Frank Lloyd Wright for new designs with a more modern approach.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

When Johnson met Frank Lloyd Wright in 1936, Johnson recalled that “he insulted me, and I insulted him. But he did a better job.” From this start came one of the 20th century’s most spectacular and innovative offices, the Administration Building at the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine. Opened in 1939, it was followed by the adjacent Research Tower (1950) and a Wright house, “Wingspread”, built for the Johnson family nearby.

Wright began work on the Johnson Administration Building in 1936 while he was still deeply involved with the development of Fallingwater. He tried to persuade Johnson to move the building into the country, Broadacre City style, and when Johnson refused, Wright shut out the surrounding industrial neighbourhood, much as he had done with the Larkin Building in Buffalo many years earlier.

Wright, an aficionado of elegant cars (he and Johnson both drove Lincoln Zephyrs), recognized early the automobile’s rising primacy. The Administration Building, three stories that appear to hug the ground, reveals itself along a driveway in fluid bands of brick trimmed with blond Kasota stone and inset with ribbons of glass-tube glazing.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

As the driver turns toward a low, covered porte-cochere, the round-cornered shapes slide under and over one another, implying the perpetual motion of whirring fan belts. It’s an abstract sculptural evocation of industry, progress and innovation.

From the shadowy porte-cochere and low vestibule, a reception space explodes up to three stories, supported by rows of the lily-pad columns (called “dendriform” by Wright), bathed by sunlight from glass-tube skylights.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

The theatricality of this entry sequence, all of which occurs within 12m of the door, is pure Wright, conjured with low ceilings and high ones, shadow and light, the heft of brick and stone, and the sparkling weightlessness of glass.

In what’s called the Great Workroom in the Administration Building, 1930s streamlined desks line up loosely amid rows of delicate columns. The columns gently thicken as they rise to form spreading lily-pad capitals that appear to support only daylight. This 2,000 square meters office floor feels like it’s set in a sun-dappled forest.

Today, the room appears much as it did when it opened in 1939. It is still filled with dozens of employees’ desks, all of which were designed by Wright himself, and which mimic the building itself with three flat geometric levels.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

The Johnson Administration building is light and elegant. Where the curved corners met the ceiling, a flowing line of glass tubing – a new, experimental material that had never been employed in this fashion before – admitted a wash of light. Tapering columns made an enchanted architectural forest; more columns were used than structurally necessary, to increase the effect. Light rising from their lily-pad tops dematerialized the room. It is a timeless, magical space.

The glass tubing was untested and, inevitably, it leaked. Wright’s enthusiasm for new materials and unproven methods of construction had creative advantages for him that far outweighed any discomfort for his clients. Faced with his airy unconcern, they learned to deal with experimental systems like the radiant heating in his houses that soon became standard building practice. The columns, which tapered from top to bottom with an amazing delicacy, were mistrusted by local building authorities, and with his usual bravado, Wright held a public test for officials and company executives. Sandbags were piled high on a sample column, far in excess of the required weight-bearing capacity, until it crashed – dramatic proof of Wright’s self-possessed infallibility. The construction of the Administration Building never received more than a conditional building permit, but it went ahead, in part because Hib Johnson personally backed his architect at all board and commission hearings.

Wright’s chair design for Johnson Wax originally had only three legs, supposedly to encourage better posture (because one would have to keep both feet on the ground at all times to sit in it). However, the chair design proved too unstable, tipping very easily. Herbert Johnson, needing a new chair design, purportedly asked Wright to sit in one of the three-legged chairs and, after Wright fell from the chair as he bent over to pick up a pen that had ‘accidentally’ fallen on the floor, the architect designed new chairs with four legs! These chairs, and the other office furniture designed by Wright, are still in use.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

The Great Workroom anticipates the contemporary open office. Nowadays, these are stacked on great floorplates to maximise profit, but Wright designed his floor – and everything from furniture to structure – for the wellbeing of workers. Wright’s design endures both because of the innate intelligence of its design and the pride the family owned company takes in it.

The headquarters building has attracted attention since its completion in 1939 and has long welcomed visitors. Other structures on the campus are also open to the public. Fortaleza Hall, a glass-cylinder event pavilion and gallery space by Foster & Partners. It is a celebration of the 25,000km flight made to Brazil by H.F. Johnson Jr in 1935, in his search for a sustainable source of natural wax: the carnaúba palm tree. Comprising two companion buildings, the project continues a tradition of inspired architectural patronage on a seminal Frank Lloyd Wright campus in Wisconsin, and is a tribute to the pioneering fifth generation S C Johnson family company.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

Carnaúba plane replica
Carnaúba replica

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

The Golden Rondelle, the company’s saucerlike 1964 New York World’s Fair pavilion, has been repurposed at SC Johnson as a movie theater.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

And in May 2014, after 8 years and $30 million in campus-wide renovations, the company opened Wright’s 1950 Research Tower to tours for the first time, making a visit even more worthwhile.

SC Johnson Administration Building

The SC Johnson Workroom became the indelible image of white-collar efficiency. A mezzanine that wraps the Workroom offers a perch for managers to check the effectiveness of the staff laboring below.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

The tour also includes H.F. Johnson Jr.’s refurbished 1940s penthouse office in the Administration Building. Opened in 1939, the office has been expertly restored to its original state and features original Wright-designed desk and chairs, as well as memorabilia that provide a deeper look into SC Johnson’s rich history and family legacy.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

Wright turned the Administration Building inward in the belief that any world he created would be far superior to the dowdy frame houses and brick factories that surrounded the Johnson tract. The 70km of Pyrex glass tubes that formed the windows and skylights deliver light that’s beautifully diffused and glittering—while obscuring views out.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

Advanced sealant technology has rescued the leaky glass-tube glazing. Wright’s balky radiant-floor heating system was switched to heating delivered by the ventilating ducts. The radiant tubes proved convenient conduits for the wiring and telecommunication cabling the building now demands. (When built, a few electrical outlets in the base of each column sufficed.)

Wright’s process demanded extraordinary fortitude on Johnson’s part. At almost $1.2 million, the building was six times more expensive than the $200,000 structure Johnson first asked for. Wright kept changing his mind as construction proceeded.

In the company’s view, the payback came not just from the headquarters’ functionality, but in rapturous reviews and invaluable press attention. A few years later Johnson hired Wright to add the elegant, diminutive and far less useful Research Tower. However, in 1943, when Johnson wrote to Wright about plans for the research edifice, he simultaneously warned him: “To be frank, Frank, we simply will not consider a financial and construction nightmare like the office building.”

The tower rises 46.6m as a spirelike counterpoint to the horizontal bulk of the headquarters. Wright repeated the alternating bands of brick and glass-tube glazing. He also paired six full floors with circular mezzanines recessed from the exterior to create double-height lab suites, which silhouette like ghostly disks through the glass bands.

It’s easy to paint Wright’s 15-story S.C. Johnson Research Tower, an exquisite mini-skyscraper wrapped in red brick and glass tubes, as a functional flop. The tubes leaked badly after the tower opened in 1950, and its inside was so unrelentingly bright that employees demanded that the company provide sunglasses. Wright abhorred the curtains installed later. The tower proved difficult to expand and just as hard to escape. It has one 75cm wide, twisting staircase, a shortcoming that could have proved lethal had fire struck. Wright also resisted installing sprinklers in a building where open-flame experiments were often underway, on the grounds that they were unsightly. The sprinklers eventually were installed. S.C. Johnson had to pay higher-than-normal premiums for fire insurance. When the number of people working in the building rose, its single fire stair was pronounced inadequate. In 1982, the company moved its research and development operation to a nearby structure, essentially mothballing the tower.

Yet the Research Tower was also an inspiring incubator. Within a decade of its opening, S.C. Johnson scientists invented four of the company’s iconic and still-profitable products — Raid, Glade, OFF! and Pledge.

The two floors opened for tours have been returned to the glory of their product development days — cabinets restored to the original Cherokee Red paint along with beakers, flasks, centrifuges, balances, test tubes and graduated cylinders set out on counter tops as if the folks who invented Off! had just stepped out for a coffee break.

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building

Instead of using dendriform columns, Wright supported the tower with another engineering innovation he called a “taproot”, a central core from which the floors cantilever as “petals”. No columns interrupt the lab space nor the continuous veil of exterior glass.

The original round recessed light fixtures in the ceiling have not aged well and have been replaced with replicas. More than 7,000 2.5m and 3.5m long glass tubes have been cleaned — with Johnson Wax product Windex, of course — and bricks replaced in the building.

Both of Wright’s buildings at the Johnson campus came in way over budget, but Johnson wanted the best. At Racine, Wright anticipated the future with more than futuristic styling. The brick texture finds echoes decades later, in modernist buildings that moved beyond cladding or concrete surfaces. Richard Seifert would cantilever the floors of London’s 183 metre-high Tower 42 just like Wright’s tower. Atria would be revived in the 70s by architects from John Portman onwards. And there’s even a hint of high-tech style in the way metal “mullions” support the tubing.

Fallingwater – The Story

If the skyscraper is America’s most iconic building, a small personal residence in southwest Pennsylvania might be its most ingenious. In Mill Run, Pennsylvania, in the Bear Run Nature Reserve where a stream flows at 400m above sea level and suddenly breaks to fall at 9m, Frank Lloyd Wright designed an extraordinary house known as Fallingwater that redefined the relationship between man, architecture and nature.

Fallingwater - The Story

The famous view of Fallingwater that has been endlessly reproduced is a breathtaking image – a cascade of concrete balconies hanging magically over a stream above a waterfall. It is a rare instance of art not diminishing nature, but enriching it; the house completes the natural, rocky, wooded slope and creates a perfect counterpoint to it. What appears in the photograph as a flat, abstract composition of sliding planes is a complex, three-dimensional structure of interlocking and intricately balanced volumes, held together and anchored by a vertical stone tower.

Two ideal clients came to Wright in the 1930s. bringing major projects that would reinvigorate his practice. The first was Edgar Kaufmann, whose Fallingwater gave Wright the means and opportunity to design an extraordinary house; the second was Herbert F. Johnson, the head of the Johnson Wax Company, who commissioned the one thing Wright’s practice lacked at that time: a large commercial building.

Edgar Kaufmann was the wealthy owner of a Pittsburgh department store whose interest in art and style, and particularly in architecture, led him to Wright in late 1934.

Wright ignored the normal solution that would have placed the house away from the stream with a view of the falls; building it over the stream, instead, was a daring design decision that challenged customary ideas and conventional construction. He fastened it to the rock with concrete “bolsters”, but the symbolic anchor is inside – a huge boulder that has been carefully retained by the hearth in a large living area.

Fallingwater - The Story

The ceiling, as was Wright’s custom, is held low in relation to the size of the room. Even at this size, however, the room has a rustic intimacy.

Fallingwater

A floor of waxed local stone leads to the terraces and to an open hatch with a flight of steps down to the stream below. The house is both above and of the stream, and connected directly to it.

Fallingwater

Fallingwater - The Story

Legend has it that the house was designed almost instantaneously, under the pressure of an impending visit from Kaufmann, who had been waiting impatiently for drawings. Although Wright had made two site visits to Pennsylvania earlier and had requested topographical maps, he had apparently drawn nothing. When a call came from Kaufmann announcing that he was in Milwaukee and would be arriving at Taliesin shortly to see the design, Wright announced that the house was finished. “Come along, E.J.,” he boomed, “we’re ready for you!” According to Edgar Tafel and other apprentices who witnessed the incident, Wright sat down at the drafting table and the house poured out of him as talked aloud, explaining exactly how it would be situated, what it would look like and how it would be used, where the owners would sit and the things they would see, even the way the water would be boiled for tea in a red kettle suspended from the hearth. Plans, elevations and sections appeared in rapid succession, and he finished, triumphantly, just as Kaufmann arrived.

Fallingwater

Wright liked to say that he shook his designs out of his sleeve, like a magician, but he had obviously been thinking about this one for months. All architects have the power of visualisation; few would sit down to a blank piece of paper with a blank mind. Wright possessed the ability to conceptualize and visualise a total solution to a problem to an exceptional degree. It was not unusual for him to have a fully conceived plan long before committing it to paper. Not is it surprising that those who have doubted the story and looked in vain for preliminary sketches have not found them. Wright’s concept of Fallingwater must have been clear to him before he drew a line. Beyond his initial client presentation, however, there would be many more detailed drawings and specifications; problems arising from the radical nature of the building would have to be resolved during construction, a practice that could prove frustrating and costly for both client and builder.

The remarkable design of Fallingwater was recognised instantly as a work of art; it also produced a host of immediate problems. Cracks and structural faults appeared before the house was complete, and Kaufmann commissioned his own engineering studies, which enraged Wright, who threatened to quit. A game ensued of secret reinforcements, orders given and rescinded by both client and architect, accompanied by a lively, idiosyncratic correspondence. But it was a confluence of predictable and unpredictable circumstances that led eventually to the building’s near collapse almost 60 years later.

The largely empirical and untested nature of the engineering calculations used for the unconventional structure, essential steel that was left out of the window framing under the bedroom cantilever, concrete that was inadequately or improperly reinforced, and shaky supervision during construction by inexperienced apprentices forced to make critical decisions on the spot, often caused by Wright’s failure to supply drawings as needed, were all contributing factors. Many of these faults and omissions were not discovered until later repairs revealed them. All were accidents or oversights that increased the risks of a design so far beyond standard practice that only materials and techniques available today would have guaranteed its successful execution.

After his parents’ death, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. used the house and maintained it superbly for years. He donated the house and the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, more than two decades before his own death, in order to establish and ensure proper standards of preservation and presentation when it would be opened to the public. A national landmark, it has become a major tourist attraction. A total retrofitting of the house was undertaken in the 1990s, not only to correct the much publicised, dangerously sagging cantilevers, but also to replace the old and outmoded plumbing, heating, and electrical systems originally meant only for family use, but by then suffering from age and the unanticipated stresses of tourism.

In 2000, the American Institute of Architects voted Fallingwater the Building of the Century. The accolade came forty-one years after Wright’s own death, following a lifetime of open warfare with the institute, during which he constantly insulted and alienated his peers. When they finally gave him the institute’s Gold Medal, in 1949, he was eighty-two (admitting to eighty) and he berated them roundly at the presentation ceremony.

Wright’s acceptance speech is available on the AIA website Honoring Frank Lloyd Wright.

www.aia.org
http://www.aia.org

After Wright’s death in 1959, the AIA Board passed a resolution to urge that sixteen of his most significant works be forever preserved. One more was later added, bringing the final list to 17 buildings:

1. W.H. Winslow House, River Forest, Illinois (1893)
2. Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, Oak Park, Illinois (1895)

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

3. Ward Willitts House, Highland Park, Illinois (1902)
4. Unity Church, Oak Park, Illinois (1906)
5. Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois (1909)

Robie House

Robie House

6. “Hollyhock House”, Los Angeles, California (1920)

Hollyhock House

Hollyhock House

Hollyhock House

7. Taliesin III, Spring Green, Wisconsin (1925)
8. “Fallingwater”, Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., House, Bear Run, Pennsylvania (1936)

Fallingwater

Fallingwater

9. S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc., Administration Building, Racine, Wisconsin (1936-39)

SC Johnson Administration Building

67c652960e4bc7bb95c437e83ec81aac

10. Taliesin West, Maricopa Mesa, Paradise Valley, near Phoenix, Arizona (1938)
11. Unitarian Church, Madison, Wisconsin (1947)
12. Heliolaboratory, S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc., Racine, Wisconsin (1950)

Heliolaboratory

Lego Heliolaboratory
Lego Heliolaboratory

13. V.C. Morris Shop, San Francisco, California (1951)
14. H.C. Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma (1952-55)
15. Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (1958-59)
16. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York (1957-59)

Around US With Lego

Guggenheim Museum

17. Paul R. Hanna House, Palo Alto, California (1937)

Play Day

That was the longest night ever!

Play Day

Well, it was the longest night this year….

Play Day

It was too long! I have a new dress for play day and no time to waste!

Play Day

Oooh, a safari adventure with Mickey and Minnie…

Play Day

A Wild Adventure

So many shiny pins!

Play Day

What do you think of this one?

Play Day

Mickey gave me a badge for my first visit to Disneyland!

Play Day

We had a play day with Woody and Buzz!

Play Day

Picture Perfect at Disney Hollywood Studios

We had a play day together at Hong Kong Disneyland. We’ll have a play day together at Shanghai Disneyland too!

Play Day

You travelled to all the countries at Epcot!

Play Day

New jewellery from Minnie!

Play Day

Play Day

We have new movies to watch!

Play Day

Ready for the movies…

Play Day

Play Day

The Original Hall of Fame

Puffles and Honey are in the Bronx and they are not lost!

The Original Hall of Fame

They left the island of Manhattan to visit the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, an outdoor sculpture gallery, located on the grounds of Bronx Community College in the Bronx, New York City. The Hall of Fame was the vision of Dr. Henry Mitchell McCracken, a chancellor of New York University who sought to build a pantheon of great Americans on what was then NYU’s uptown campus. When the Hall of Fame opened in 1901, there were 29 inductees, including George Washington, the first and only unanimously elected member. Since then, scientists, politicians, inventors, artists and scholars have been added. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was the first official Hall of Fame celebrating the people who helped form the identity of the United States. It was conceived in an era when fame had not yet morphed into celebrity, when fame was still renown and contribution to society.

The Hall of Fame attracted national attention in the early years, the elections to induct members were covered by the national press, and it was even mentioned in “The Wizard of Oz” – The Munchkins tell Dorothy:

From now on you’ll be history.
You’ll be hist, you’ll be hist, you’ll be history.
And we will glorify your name.
You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust
In the Hall of Fame!

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans outlived its glory years ago. Also, the University Heights section of the Bronx has never been a tourist mecca. At the risk of stating the blinking obvious, the Bronx looks nothing like Manhattan! Its last class of inductees, in which a board of 100 distinguished electors chose from candidates nominated by the public, was in 1976 – Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross; Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis; Luther Burbank, the horticulturist; and Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist. They were never ennobled with bronze busts or plaques, because by then the campus had gone bankrupt and had been sold to Bronx Community College, which still maintains the site. The last installation of a bust was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in 1992, a ceremony 19 years in the making. One wonders what the contemporary students of this school – who are mostly black and Latino – think of the Hall of Fame. Of the 98 members enshrined in it, only two are black and there are no Latinos, no Native Americans, Jews or even Catholics.

The first recent major event celebrating the Hall of Fame took place in October 2015 when Bronx Community College participated in the Open House New York Weekend.

The Hall of Fame is a breezy 190 meters long open-air neo-classical colonnade with a vaulted ceiling, wrapped around the back of two college halls and a library. Designed by the celebrated architect Stanford White and financed by a gift from Mrs. Finley J. Shepard (Helen Gould) to New York University, the Hall of Fame was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901.

The complex of three buildings adjoining the Colonnade – Gould Memorial Library, the Hall of Languages and Cornelius Baker Hall of Philosophy – were also designed by Stanford White and bear a close conceptual relationship to the Colonnade, with the library as the central focus. These three buildings were among the first constructed on the University Heights campus – Language Hall (1894), Gould Memorial Library (1899) and Philosophy Hall (1912).

The bronze busts that line the Colonnade are original works by distinguished American sculptors. Among the master sculptors represented here are Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial; James Earl Fraser, whose work includes the figures of “Justice” and “Law” for the U.S. Supreme Court, and Frederick MacMonnies, whose reliefs grace Fifth Avenue’s Washington Arch. The Hall of Fame’s 98 portrait busts have been called “the largest and finest collection of bronze busts anywhere in [the US].” The categories of occupation or endeavor represented in the Hall of Fame are authors, educators, architects, inventors, military leaders, judges, theologians, philanthropists, humanitarians, scientists, statesmen, artists, musicians, actors, and explorers.

The Original Hall of Fame

The Original Hall of Fame

The Original Hall of Fame

Edgar Allan Poe "A poem deserves its title only in as much as it excites, by elevating the soul."
Edgar Allan Poe
“A poem deserves its title only in as much as it excites, by elevating the soul.”
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain "Loyalty to  petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain
“Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”
Lilian D. Wald "The social workers of our time are dreaming a great dream, and seeing a great vision of democracy, of a real brotherhood among men."
Lilian D. Wald
“The social workers of our time are dreaming a great dream, and seeing a great vision of democracy, of a real brotherhood among men.”
George Washington "Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
George Washington
“Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Benjamin Franklin "This constitution can end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other."
Benjamin Franklin
“This constitution can end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”
Wright Brothers Wilbur Wright - "I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future workers who will attain final success." Orvill Wright -  "It was…the first time in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started."
Wright Brothers
Wilbur Wright – “I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future workers who will attain final success.”
Orvill Wright – “It was…the first time in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started.”

The Colonnade was designed with niches to accommodate 102 sculptured works and currently houses the busts and commemorative plaques of 98 of the 102 honorees elected since 1900. The large bronze plaques beneath the busts were designed by the Tiffany Studios, providing the person’s name, years of birth and death, and an inscription of significant statements made by the man or woman honored – but no information about who they were, or why they were so great. The well-heeled visitors of the early 20th century didn’t need to be told that, for example, Elias Howe patented the sewing machine, or that Lewis Agassiz came up with the idea of the Ice Age. But today’s visitors are at a loss, something that the founders of this Hall never foresaw.

Among those represented in the Hall of Fame are a few scientific pioneers: Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel F. B. Morse, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Abraham Michelson (the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in science), George Westinghouse; two astronomers: Simon Newcomb and Maria Mitchell; and two great American physicists: Joseph Henry and Josiah Willard Gibbs.

Alexander Graham Bell "All great inventions... are the product of many minds. No one man could have made the telephone so practical and so useful."
Alexander Graham Bell
“All great inventions… are the product of many minds. No one man could have made the telephone so practical and so useful.”
Samuel Finley Breese Morse "I am persuaded that whatever facilitates intercourse between portions of the human family will have the effect, under guidance of sound moral principles, to promote the best interests of man."
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
“I am persuaded that whatever facilitates intercourse between portions of the human family will have the effect, under guidance of sound moral principles, to promote the best interests of man.”
Thomas Alva Edison "I trust you for progress... Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward."
Thomas Alva Edison
“I trust you for progress… Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward.”
Josiah Willard Gibbs "One of the principal objects of theoretical research is to find a point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity."
Josiah Willard Gibbs
“One of the principal objects of theoretical research is to find a point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity.”
Joseph Henry "I may say I was the first to bring the electro-magnet to the condition necessary to its use in telegraphy and also to point out its applications to the telegraphy."
Joseph Henry
“I may say I was the first to bring the electro-magnet to the condition necessary to its use in telegraphy and also to point out its applications to the telegraphy.”
Maria Mitchell "Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God."
Maria Mitchell
“Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.”
George Westinghouse "If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied."
George Westinghouse
“If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied.”

Bronx Community College is working on a $25-$50 million campaign to renovate Gould Memorial Library, which the neo-classical Hall of Fame colonnade surrounds. A portion of the money would go toward developing space in the library where new members to the Hall could be added. The interior of the Gould Memorial Library is richly decorated in marble, stone, mosaic, wood, bronze, and Tiffany glass, and features one of the most breathtaking rotundas in the city.

Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library

The Hall of Fame and Gould Memorial Library were designated City Landmarks in 1966, with the library interior following in 1981.

The Bronx has another marvel, the Bronx High School of Science, one of the top schools in New York and the country and the high school with the highest number of Nobel Prize winners among its graduates in the US! Founded in 1938, the first graduating class was in 1941. Within 10 years, 5 graduates would later be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Two others joined them for a total of 7. The eight Nobel Prize winner is in chemistry.

Leon N. Cooper ’47, Brown University awarded the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics
Sheldon L. Glashow ’50, Boston University, awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics
Steven Weinberg ’50, University of Texas at Austin, awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics
Melvin Schwartz ’49, Columbia University, awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics
Russell A. Hulse ’66, Princeton University, awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics
H. David Politzer ’66, California Institute of Technology, awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics
Roy J. Glauber ’41, Harvard University, awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics
Robert J. Lefkowitz ’59, Duke University, awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The American Physical Society recognized Bronx High School of Science as a Historic Physics Site. The Society recognizes several sites a year as Historic Physics Site. Some sites chosen have been the California laboratory where the first working laser was constructed, the site in Shelter Island, NY, where a 1946 conference on quantum mechanics was held, and many research universities, with Bronx High School of Science being the first high school recognized.

The Bronx High School of Science is one of three special schools in New York that ended up at the centre of bitter political battles that culminated in the Hecht-Calandra Bill in 1971, which mandated that admission to these three schools be decided “solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination”. The bill was later amended somewhat to encourage minority students to apply – “The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools”.