American Nomad is written by travel and art lover Adele Lassiter…Thanks for joining in the adventures!
We’re continuing our tour of NYC’s amazing art museums with a stop at the iconic Guggenheim Museum.
I first visited The Guggenheim over twenty years ago during a high school youth group trip. I instantly fell in love with the innovative architecture and fantastic art collection. The museum’s Cezanne collection left a lasting impression on me…I was struck by the artist’s use of color, perspective and melding of impressionism, landscapes and a new modernism that created a style of its own.
My own work as a landscape artist is heavily inspired by artists featured in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection: Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Pissaro, Braque and of course Cezanne.
Fast forward twenty-plus years and I finally made it back to The Guggenheim…it did not disappoint.
The Guggenheim is one of the most iconic art museums in the world, not simply because of its amazing collection, but the connection of art, architecture, space and gathering.
While that may sound a bit existential or ‘buzz’ museum speak, The Guggenheim truly is designed as a museum that engages the visitor to interact with the art in unsual, yet functional spaces and bring people together through art.
It starts with the architecture:
Opened in 1959, The Guggenheim was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (his only building in NYC).
Design: The building’s design is meant to imitate an ancient structure known as a ziggurant – a pyramid with a walkway along the outer edges that grows narrower as it rises towards the pinnacle. The Guggenheim is an inverted ziggurat because the outer walls and walkway spread wider as the building rises. The interior includes a vast rotunda, that sits at the base of the open center of the museum. A spiraling staircase leads to the top.
The Guggenheim was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, along with eight total Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Wright, who was active in The Prairie School, Craftsman and Modern art movements is renowned as one of the most innovative and important architects of the twentieth-century and beyond.
Many consider The Guggenheim Museum his crowning acheivement given it’s unique building design, functional and artistic use of space.
I’ve been blessed to have seen many works by Frank Lloyd Wright, including commissions in Chicago, Wisconsin and Minneapolis. Many of those designs relied on the nature of the Great Lakes region and use of modern space to highlight the landscape.
The Guggenheim is striking to me, because in is so different (in my opinion) than many of Wright’s other designs, which shows his depth, skill and vision as an architect.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of modern architecture. I’m open to it, but I prefer more classical designs (Charleston, SC or Florence Italy really excite my architectural heart). That being said, Ive always loved The Guggenheim Building because the building design serves the art so well.
It is an odd building at first glance – an egg shape oval of sorts that seems out of place off Fifth Avenue, and yet it doesn’t overtake the equally gorgeous Gothic, Romanensque or Beaux Arts styles in the neighborhood.
At the time, the museum’s construction was highly controversial because it is so different than anything in NYC and the neighborhood. I’m fairly conservative on mixing architectural styles and would have been skeptical of adding this to Fifth Avenue, but once you see it in person it is hard not to fall in love with Frank Lloyd Wright’s creation.
As you step inside The Guggenheim you are sunbathed in light – natural and artifical light – that is invites you into the space.
Frank Lloyd Wright created an innovative ramp that esses up each floor in a spiral towards the oculus of the glass ceiling.
While this ramp is unique architecturally and visually stunning, for me I’ve always appreciated the functional purpose and thought in the ramp.
I’ve been to many museums where you had to navigate difficult stairs and inconvenient elevators. As someone who has had a few sprains and broken bones, I know how frustrating it can be when you cannot see or really enjoy the museum because of inaccessible or poorly organized design.
A wheelchair can easily go up The Guggenheim’s ramp…It is wide enough for anyone to walk, pause and reflect on the art.
The Guggenheim’s temporary exhibitions are easily viewed from the spiral rotunda ramp, with additional wings accessible via each floor (permanent and special exhibits)
The permanent collection is housed in The Thanhauser Collection Wing…
The collection highlights include:
- Van Gogh
- + more
The Monet painting in Venice calmed my soul as I sat and admired the cool and warm colors. I recently visited Venice, Italy and fell in love with the deep blues and turquoise waters against gorgeous buildings.
- Fun fact: The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice is run by The Guggenheim Foundation. The collection features works by Picasso and more housed in Peggy’s Venice home. Peggy was Solomon Guggenheim’s niece. She lived in Venice many years. We’ll tour that museum in a future post!
I spent nearly an hour in this gallery, taking in each art work.
The Pissarro surprised me the most. I have always enjoyed Impressionist Camille Pissarro’s work, but many of the paintings I’ve seen in person were smaller in size. The collection’s Hermitage at Pontoise is 59 x 78 inches and brings you into a dreamy pastoral scene. I sat on a nearby bench and soaked in the details, from the figures conversing to the meandering path.
Pissarro explored post-industrialism in many of the works I’ve seen, from the sooty smoke of trains passing through once pastoral plains to busy city scenes. I enjoy seeing a different side of the artist’s repertoire.
Special Exhibit: Alex Katz
When we visited in February 2023, The Guggenheim featured a large exhibit of Alex Katz paintings (Alex Katz Gathering).
This exhibit was my first introduction to this amazing 20th century artist – a new favorite!
Katz emerged as an artist in the mid-20th century where he fused the energy of Abstract Expressinist canvases with figurative painting. A life-long New Yorker, he ws inspired by his surroundings in NYC, as well as coastal Maine.
What I loved: Katz’s ability to have a simplicity and depth in his painting that brings out the depths of human emotions but with simple lines and thoughtful use of color.
The Blue Umbrella painting is haunting and moving. My mom and I returned to it several times. I learned that it was a painting of his wife (a subject of many of his portraits.)
Touring the Museum:
- I always recommend checking their website for the latest hours and potential closures.
- Timed tickets are sold on their website, otherwise you’ll have to wait in a long line
- They have a great cafe on-site with yummy gluten-free cookies. The cafe views of Central Park are stunning!
Stay tuned as we continue our museum adventures in NYC…
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Purpose of American Nomad: To share my love of travel, history and museums with others. Follow American Nomad on facebook here.
About: American Nomad is written by Adele Lassiter, a travel enthusiast with a background in history, art and technology sales. In addition to running American Nomad, Adele is an artist and published author of cozy romances. Check out her cozy romance novel, Solitude Lake on Amazon (Adele Darcy)