Category Archives: Modern

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

NY-16New York City, New York is home to perhaps one of the most iconic museums in the world, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – today’s “Museum of the Day”.

Located on the upper east side of Manhattan on what is commonly called “Museum Mile” by New Yorkers, the Guggenheim is housed in a building designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright and could be called “the” museum building that is most recognizable as an art museum.

In June 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright received a letter from Hilla Rebay, the art advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim, asking the architect to design a new building to house Guggenheim’s four-year-old Museum of Non-Objective Painting. The project evolved into a complex struggle pitting the architect against his clients, city officials, the art world, and public opinion. Both Guggenheim and Wright would die before the building’s 1959 completion. The resultant achievement, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, testifies not only to Wright’s architectural genius, but to the adventurous spirit that characterized its founders.

Wright made no secret of his disenchantment with Guggenheim’s choice of New York for his museum: “I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build his great museum,” Wright wrote in 1949 to Arthur Holden, “but we will have to try New York.” To Wright, the city was overbuilt, overpopulated, and lacked architectural merit.

Still, he proceeded with his client’s wishes, considering locations on 36th Street, 54th Street, and Park Avenue (all in Manhattan), as well as in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, before settling on the present site on Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets. Its proximity to Central Park was key; as close to nature as one gets in New York, the park afforded relief from the noise and congestion of the city.

Nature not only provided the museum with a respite from New York’s distractions but also leant it inspiration. The Guggenheim Museum is an embodiment of Wright’s attempts to render the inherent plasticity of organic forms in architecture. His inverted ziggurat (a stepped or winding pyramidal temple of Babylonian origin) dispensed with the conventional approach to museum design, which led visitors through a series of interconnected rooms and forced them to retrace their steps when exiting. Instead, Wright whisked people to the top of the building via elevator, and led them downward at a leisurely pace on the gentle slope of a continuous ramp. The galleries were divided like the membranes in citrus fruit, with self-contained yet interdependent sections. The open rotunda afforded viewers the unique possibility of seeing several bays of work on different levels simultaneously. The spiral design recalled a nautilus shell, with continuous spaces flowing freely one into another.

Even as it embraced nature, Wright’s design also expresses his unique take on modernist architecture’s rigid geometry. The building is a symphony of triangles, ovals, arcs, circles, and squares. Forms echo one another throughout: oval-shaped columns, for example, reiterate the geometry of the fountain and the stairwell of the Thannhauser Building. Circularity is the leitmotif, from the rotunda to the inlaid design of the terrazzo floors.

The meticulous vision took decades to be fulfilled. Originally, the large rotunda was to be accompanied by a small rotunda and a tower. The small rotunda (or monitor building, as Wright called it) was intended to house apartments for Rebay and Guggenheim but instead became offices and miscellaneous storage space. In 1965, the second floor of the building was renovated to display the museum’s growing permanent collection, and with the restoration of the museum in 1990–92, it was turned over entirely to exhibition space and rechristened the Thannhauser Building in honor of one of the most important bequests to the museum.

Wright’s original plan for the tower—artists’ studios and apartments—went unrealized, largely for financial reasons. As part of the restoration, a 1968 office/art-storage annex (designed by Wright’s son-in-law William Wesley Peters) was replaced by the current structure, designed by Gwathmey Siegel and Associates Architects, LLC. This tower provides four additional exhibition galleries and, some thirty-five years after the initiation of construction, completed Wright’s concept for the museum. In 2001, the Sackler Center for Arts Education opened to the public. Located just below the rotunda, this 8,200-square-foot education facility includes the Peter B. Lewis Theater, part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original architectural design for the building.

Some people, especially artists, criticized Wright for creating a museum environment that might overpower the art inside. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “it was to make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before.” In conquering the static regularity of geometric design and combining it with the plasticity of nature, Wright produced a vibrant building whose architecture is as refreshing now as it was 40 years ago. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is arguably Wright’s most eloquent presentation and certainly the most important building of his late career.

I always make a stop at the Guggenheim when in NYC. It’s not the only landmark building in the city, but it is one of my personal favorites; I always love to see what artist is on display in the rotunda, since the inside perspective is always uniquely interpreted by the artists who are blessed with the opportunity to be featured there. It’s a “not to be missed” museum!

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John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art

ringling_art_museum1Sarasota, Florida is home to one of the best museums in Florida, The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art – today’s “Museum of the Day”.

I lived in Sarasota for four years and have been visiting there for over 20 years – my family members have chosen this magical city as their place to retire and I am fortunate to be able to enjoy the amazing beaches, great cultural attractions and low-key environment whenever I need to “get away”.

The Ringling Museum (as it is commonly called) is the largest university-based museum in the United States and it has benefited tremendously from the recent affiliation with Florida State University. I remember seeing the museum a bit run-down before the university involvement, and now the campus, which features a historic house, an art museum, and a circus museum, is flourishing and is the main pulse of cultural engagement in this city of culture.

Today, The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States.  But its story begins nearly a century ago, with the circus impresario and his beloved wife’s shared love for Sarasota, Italy and art.

John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the circus rightly called  “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  His success with the circus and entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Roaring Twenties, one of the richest men in America, with an estimated worth of nearly $200 million.

In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town. They became active in the community and purchased more and more real estate, at one time owning more than 25 percent of Sarasota’s total area.

After a few years the couple decided to build a house and hired the noted New York architect Dwight James Baum to design it. Mable, who kept a portfolio filled with sketches, postcards and photos, wanted a home in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy, with Sarasota Bay serving as her Grand Canal. Construction began in 1924 and was completed two years later at a then staggering cost of $1.5 million. Five stories tall, the 36,000 square foot mansion has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.

Mable supervised every aspect of the building, down to the mixing of the terra cotta and the glazing of the tiles. Today, the entrance to the grounds is through the Venetian gothic gateway where the Ringlings welcomed their guests to the opulent Ca’ d’Zan, or “House of John” in the Venetian dialect.

While traveling through Europe in search of acts for his circus, John Ringling, in the spirit of America’s wealthiest Gilded Age industrialists, began acquiring art and gradually built a significant collection. The more he collected, the more passionate and voracious a collector he became, educating himself and working with dealers such as Julius Bohler. He began buying and devouring art books – that would become the foundation of the now 85,000 volume Ringling Art Library.

Soon after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled on the Florentine Uffizi Gallery to house his treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens. The result is the museum and a courtyard filled with replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.

John opened the Museum of Art to the public in 1931, two years after the death of his beloved Mable, saying he hoped it would “promote education and art appreciation, especially among our young people.” And five years later, upon his death, he bequeathed it to the people of Florida.

Hurt by the Depression, John had by the time of his passing, fallen into debt. Creditors and legal wrangling would delay the settling of his estate for a decade. While the state prevailed and took control in 1946, funds languished. The $1.2 million endowment Ringling left was poorly managed and barely grew. Between 1936 and 1946 the Museum was only occasionally opened and not properly maintained. The Ca’ d’Zan was used privately and remained closed to the public.

Gradually, the care that the buildings required – weatherproofing, mechanical upgrades, and maintenance of Mable’s gardens – was either put off or handled piecemeal. Some private donors came forward to help keep the Museum open, while a dedicated, but severely underfunded staff struggled to fulfill the Museum’s potential.

There were, however, some bright spots during this period. In 1948, the Museum’s first Director, A. Everett ‘Chick’ Austin, Jr., used Ringling memorabilia to open the first Circus Museum. In 1950 Austin oversaw the purchase of all the decorative elements of a theater originally built in 1798 by architect Antonio Locateli. The theater was originally located in the castle of Queen Caterina Cornaro, the Venetian-born widow of the King of Cyprus, in the town of Asolo near Venice, Italy.

Plans were finally made in 1954 for a separate building to be constructed for the theater off the west end of the Museum’s north wing. The building was constructed, the theater installed during 1955-56, and then completed in 1957. The U-shaped theater, with three tiers of boxes adorned by decorative panels, was used for plays, concerts, operas, lectures, films and other cultural programming. But because of its immense popularity as the center of Sarasota’s culture life, restoration was difficult and long-term deterioration was inevitable. It was finally closed to the public in the late 1990s and remained unused until The Ringling’s recent renaissance.

In 2000, after years of negotiation, the state passed on governance of the Museum to Florida State University (FSU). As part of the arrangement, the state promised to fund immediate repairs and in 2002 provided through the University another $43 million to fund all four buildings – the Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan, Circus Museum and Historic Asolo Theater – provided the Museum board could raise another $50 million within five years. Thanks to a heroic effort by some in the community and truly generous public support, they exceeded beyond expectations and more than $56 million was raised by 2007.

As importantly, a new Director, John Wetenhall, was appointed in 2001 and under his care The Ringling experienced an extraordinary rebirth. A new roof was put on the Museum of Art and the galleries refurbished. Ca’ d’Zan underwent a $15 million restoration. The Historic Asolo Theater was restored and moved inside the new Visitor Pavilion, designed by Yann Weymouth, chief architect for the Pyramide du Louvre and East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., as well as the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Visitor Pavilion was one of four new buildings added. The Circus Museum Tibbals Learning Center, was built featuring the world’s largest model circus, the Howard Bros. Circus Model, built over 50 years by master model maker and philanthropist Howard Tibbals. A state-of the-art Education Center was also built with storage facilities, offices and an art library that has become an essential resource for scholars, educators and students. The crowning touch, the Searing Wing, provides more than 20,000 square feet of exhibition space capable of accommodating up to four exhibitions at a time.

Interim director Marshall Rousseau, a longtime Ringling supporter, oversaw The Ringling after Wetenhall’s departure and was instrumental in the 2011hiring of Steven High, who had been serving as the Director and CEO of the Telfair Museums in Savannah, Georgia.

High is committed to expanding the range of Museum offerings by introducing audiences to those emerging talents in the international arts community who are defining current trends in contemporary art. Under his leadership, Joseph’s Coat, a Skyspace by modern master James Turrell, became part of the Museum’s permanent collection, thrilling audiences by inviting them to contemplate light and perception as they gaze at the sky through a 24-foot aperture, in the ceiling.

High has also overseen the mounting of Paolo Veronese, the first major exhibition of the renaissance artist in over 20 years and the first artist that John Ringling acquired.

To the delight of all, the Tibbals Learning Center has since expanded with the opening of its interactive family galleries, inviting all to experience the excitement of a day at the circus while preserving the legacy of the Museum’s founder and circus king, John Ringling.

In September of 2013 ground was broken on a new building that will house the Asian Art Center, a dynamic new extension of the Museum of Art that will support teaching and research on Asian art and culture. Scheduled for completion in late 2014,  Asian Art Center will provide educational opportunities for students and scholars from around the world and enable the public to better understand and appreciate Asian history and society through exhibitions, programs, and publications. It promises to make the Museum one the most significant centers for Asian art studies in the United States.

Also underway is the building of a Museum Playspace. Made possible by the Bolger Foundation, the David F. Bolger Playspace will be an outdoor installation designed to engage visitors of all ages and abilities in spontaneous play, creating for families and school groups a place to gather and enjoy their visit.

“The creation of this exciting new component to The Ringling experience marks a giant step forward in our on-going development and expansion as a center for art education,” Director High has said. Plans call for an early 2014 opening.

The momentum of these and other recent Museum of Art successes have accelerated exciting plans for new acquisitions, buildings and programs, fulfilling John Ringling’s dream of a great cultural center on Florida’s West Coast.

This is, without a doubt, a “must see” museum when in Florida! I am always excited to visit the museum when I travel to Sarasota for some R&R – it’s great to see how the museum has grown and changed over the years and it is a testament to the power of cross-sector collaboration. Universities can certainly benefit from the educational and cultural resources that museums provide and museums, in  exchange, can really thrive under the umbrella of important educational organizations.

I look forward to my next visit to Sarasota!

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Art Institute of Chicago

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Chicago, Illinois – Home to one of the best art collections in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago stands tall in the realm of important art museums of the 21st century. It was voted #1 Museum in United States in 2013 by the TripAdvisor.com users.

Close to my hometown of Peoria, I remember many visits to this venerable institution growing up. My most recent trip to Chicago did not allow for a visit inside, but the time I spent exploring Millennium Park allowed me some great views of the new wing.

The Art Institute of Chicago collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public and in accordance with our profession’s highest ethical standards and practices.

The Art Institute of Chicago was founded as both a museum and school for the fine arts in 1879, a critical era in the history of Chicago as civic energies were devoted to rebuilding the metropolis that had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1871. Its first collections consisting primarily of plaster casts, the Art Institute found its permanent home in 1893, when it moved into a building, constructed jointly with the city of Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. That building, its entry flanked by the two famous bronze lions, remains the “front door” of the museum even today. In keeping with the academic origins of the institution, a research library was constructed in 1901; eight major expansions for gallery and administrative space have followed, with the latest being the Modern Wing, which opened in 2009. The permanent collection has grown from plaster casts to nearly 300,000 works of art in fields ranging from Chinese bronzes to contemporary design and from textiles to installation art. Together, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the museum of the Art Institute of Chicago are now internationally recognized as two of the leading fine-arts institutions in the United States.

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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Nestled in the Basque region’s port city of Bilbao, Spain, today’s “Museum of the Day” is recognizable the world over for the transformational power of iconic architecture and art. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was the real first bold move for a New York-based art collection from the 20th century.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy had already been entrusted to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation by 1976, three years before Peggy passed away. Solomon was Peggy’s uncle and when she died, the NY based museum assumed responsibility for the care of the artworks and reopened her palace in Venice to the public as a museum in 1980. Together, the two museums provided a working model that gave Thomas Krens, the New York museum’s director in the 1980-90s, the idea to form a “constellation” of museum outposts in which to circulate exhibits from the existing collections and from which he could enhance the collecting power of the new collective of museums.

Bilbao, Spain proved a perfect alignment of the stars for Krens and he managed to capture the world’s attention with what many consider Frank O. Gehry’s masterpiece. I wrote my graduate thesis about the museum, and I was fortunate to tour it while under construction (hard hat and all), then again attended the grand opening on October 18, 1987.

My experience of seeing it unfinished, I believe, provided me with a lot of insight into how detailed and ingenious Gehry’s designs were. I was able to see closet space for artworks that later, when completed, were completely invisible behind the undulating and sensual walls he designed. When I attended the opening, I was able to understand how he had also worked natural lighting into places that otherwise would have needed artificial lights. The building has a life and an energy force that are palpable from the moment you see it emerge and until you leave.

The jaw-dropping, gasp-producing moment when you first spot the museum from a distance continue as you approach it in a car as you round the hillsides of Bilbao, continues at street level, where it looms like a spaceship landed in the middle of an otherwise quiet, historic city. Suddenly, as you approach the museum on the sidewalk, it invites you in with a staircase leading DOWN to the entrance, a huge departure from the monumental staircases up to art museums of the 20th century. The architecture never fails to keep you engaged during the entire visit, as you will find surprises at every turn.

I have included many images of the interior spaces here and not the myriad of images from every angle. Instead of explaining each nuance, I leave you with images to explore and enjoy.

Truly, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has one of the best backgrounds for art of the 21st century, but the best way to experience the building is in person. I cannot wait to go again!

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Entrance Atrium
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Entrance to Guggenheim Museum Bilbao with Jeff Koon’s sculpture, “Puppy”.
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Gallery for Richard Serra’s monumental sculptures.
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Richard Serra monumental installations are easily experienced in the large hanger-like galleries in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
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Gerhy’s designs allow for natural light from the upper level galleries to flow unimpeded into galleries below.

The Speed Art Museum

Concept_renderings_by_wHY_Architecture_CustomLouisville, Kentucky is home to today’s “Museum of the Day,” The Speed Art Museum. Although the museum is closed for a major renovation and new 21st century building construction, there are still ways to participate and support this, the oldest and most significant art museum in Kentucky.

With a $50 million expansion planned through 2015, The Speed Art Museum is currently closed for construction. The new 60,000-square-foot North Building will help create one of the finest experiential art museums in the country and will double the overall square footage and nearly triple the gallery space from the existing wing. The expansion will create a state-of-the-art space for larger special exhibitions, new contemporary art galleries, a family education welcome center, indoor/outdoor café, museum shop, and a multifunctional pavilion for performances, lectures and entertaining. Additionally, the new Elizabeth P. and Frederick K. Cressman Art Park and public Piazza will be created for the display of sculpture that will engage University of Louisville students and faculty and museum visitors.

Visit the museum’s satellite space, Local Speed, at 822 East Market Street, during the expansion!

Local Speed serves as the Museum’s satellite space during the renovation and expansion, hosting unique programming, special exhibitions, family art activities and events. Local Speed is located in the heart of Louisville’s downtown neighborhood, Nulu and is open Fridays, 12-8 and Saturdays, 11-4. You can also join free and informal docent tours of the gallery on Fridays and Saturdays between noon and 3pm. It’s a wonderful way to experience art at a slightly different Speed.

I look forward to seeing the new museum in 2015!

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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Source: NY Times online
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Kansas City, Missouri is home to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, today’s “Museum of the Day”.

As I tour around the  United States via the internet searching for this blog, I find all kinds of museums (known or not) that I want to visit! This great art museum in the Midwest has always been on my list, but the new Bloch Building addition that opened in 2007 makes it one of most visually engaging museums, architecturally speaking.

The Bloch Building has been called a process unfolding, a magical response to the landscape and to the original building. The design by Steven Holl Architects was chosen for its unique solution to the Museum’s problem: how to provide more space without compromising the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

What was created becomes a sculptural addition to the landscape of the museum. The addition solved the need while adding visual interest to the art museum.

The story of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is rich with characters, collectors and curators. It began in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the edge of Kansas City was still north of the current Museum. It began because a Kansas City newspaperman developed a hunger for refinement at about the same time that a widowed schoolteacher fell in love with the art museums of Europe.

The large financial estates they left were intended to create two separate art museums, but trustees later combined their assets to fund what is today a world-renowned art museum, the Nelson-Atkins. It would take brilliant architects, art historians, curators and community leaders to turn the dreams of William Rockhill Nelson and Mary Atkins into reality.

Worth the airfare for its history and great collections alone, the museum’s new building is like the icing on the cake.

There are many great and unusual museum experiences in Missouri. I can’t wait to visit!

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Figge Art Museum

20140202-193204.jpgDavenport, Iowa is the location of today’s “Museum of the Day”.

The Figge Art Museum is the premier art exhibition and education facility between Chicago and Des Moines. With soaring glass walls reflecting the constantly changing sky, the museum’s expansive galleries and intimate rooms are home to some of the Midwest’s finest art collections. Studio-style classrooms allow young and old to participate in the creative process.

The museum opened as the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery in 1925 with a gift of 350 European and Mexican Colonial paintings, creating the first municipal art gallery in the state of Iowa. Today, the collections include more than 3,500 paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the 16th century to the present.

In 1987, the museum changed its name to the Davenport Museum of Art. Then in 2003, the museum relocated to the heart of downtown Davenport, following a major capital campaign. In recognition of the $13.25 million lead gift to the new building project from the V. O. and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Foundation, the museum was renamed the Figge Art Museum.

The Figge Art Museum opened at its new home on the banks of the Mississippi River in August 2005. The 114,000 square-foot facility was designed by British architect David Chipperfield. The combination of reflective, transparent and opaque surfaces continuously transforms the appearance of the facade in relation to the sun and changing cloud patterns. The building is a civic landmark in downtown Davenport, and enables the museum to further its mission as a regional exhibition space and a community-oriented education center.

The museum manages the majority of the extensive collections of African artifacts and Modern art from the University of Iowa, my alma mater. The University experienced serious damage during a flood in 2008 and is still raising funds to rebuild a museum.

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Museo Soumaya

museo-soumaya-1Mexico City is home of one of the most stunning new museums opened since 2010. Although information about the museum is only available in Spanish via the institution’s website, the architecture of the museum merits it a special page in my blog.

From Wikipedia: The Museo Soumaya is a private museum in the Nuevo Polanco area of Mexico City. Admission to the museum is free. It is owned by the Carlos Slim Foundation and contains the extensive art, religious relics, historical documents, and coin collection of Carlos Slim and his late wife Soumaya, after whom the museum was named.

The museum holds works by many of the best known European artists from the 15th to the 20th century. It contains a large collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin.

The museum was founded in 1994.  In 2011 it opened a new location which cost over $70 million to build. The new building, a shiny silver cloud-like structure reminiscent of a Rodin sculpture,was designed by the Mexican architect Fernando Romero, who is married to a daughter of Carlos Slim, and engineered with Ove Arup and Frank Gehry.

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