Guggenheim 60: a typographic ode to the museum's milestone anniversary
Founded back in 1937 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and its first New York-based venue for the display of art, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, opened in 1939.
With its exhibitions of Solomon Guggenheim’s somewhat eccentric art collection, the unusual gallery—designed by William Muschenheim at the behest of Hilla Rebay, the foundation’s curator and the museum’s director—provided many visitors with their first encounter with great works by Vasily Kandinsky, as well as works by his followers, including Rudolf Bauer, Alice Mason, Otto Nebel, and Rolph Scarlett.
The need for a permanent building to house Guggenheim’s art collection became evident in the early 1940s, and in 1943 renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright gained the commission to design a museum in New York City.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened it's doors to the public on October 21, 1959, and 2019 sees the 60th celebration of the museum as an architectural icon and “temple of spirit” where radical art and architecture meet.
Dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has built an international constellation of museums aka the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; and the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
To celebrate the milestone Typeroom delves into the museum's treasury to rediscover artist interventions for a typographic-infused ode to Wright's spiral of knowledge and shrine of art.
Jenny Holzer's 1989 exhibition, selections from her series “Truisms,” “Inflammatory Essays,” and other language-based works raced the length of an LED display board running up the inner wall of Frank Lloyd Wright's spiral ramp, transforming the museum's rotunda into a dazzling electronic arcade.
Her installation brought up such issues as the viability of public art, the commodification, and consumption of art, and the conflation of the personal and the political—some of the most pressing issues of American art in the 1980s.
In 2008, Jenny Holzer created “For the Guggenheim,” in celebration of a recently completed restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark building.
In this piece, the artist’s own writings and selections from poems by Wisława Szymborska were projected onto the museum’s newly renovated facade one night weekly throughout the autumn. The fragmented texts scrolled steadily upward over each of the Wright building’s rings, vanishing into the darkness above.
“For the Guggenheim” turned the museum’s exterior into an environment for looking, discussing, and gathering.
In 2008, Douglas Gordon presented a site-specific, text-based installation, “prettymucheverywordwritten,spoken,heard,overheardfrom1989…” (2008) throughout the rotunda, walls, floor, and lobby as part of the exhibition “theanyspacewhatever.”
Gordon’s text installations utilize and animate their surrounding architecture and are “completed” through the audience’s interaction with them.
This work, which included phrases such as “Nothing will ever be the same,” “I’m closer than you think,” and “There is something you should know,” evoked ambiguity and revealed the artist’s obsession with opposites—fact and fiction, good and evil, and so on—and the ways in which such dichotomies often collapse into one another.
Greek-born artist Chryssa moved to New York in 1954, finding inspiration in the spectacle of the advertising neon signs of Times Square. She began incorporating neon into her work in the early 1960s, and was one of the first artists to transform it from an advertising medium into fine art.
For Chryssa, the illuminated signs were a perfect example of the intertwining of the vulgar and the visually poetic in U.S. popular culture. She engaged this quality in her neon works, which are illegible but often recall deconstructed letters.
Chryssa's “Fragmented Signature” (1970), on view in Guggenheim's Artistic License.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “The Death of Michael Stewart” (1983), informally known as “Defacement,” is the artist’s attempt to envision Michael Stewart’s fateful encounter with the police.
Originally painted on a wall of Keith Haring’s Cable Building studio laden with tags by graffiti writers, Basquiat’s painting was a deeply personal lamentation that has rarely been exhibited publicly.
“TO THE SEA / ON THE SEA / FROM THE SEA / AT THE SEA / BORDERING THE SEA” (1970) is an example of Lawrence Weiner’s sculpture which uses language itself as a medium: to describe material processes and physical conditions, and to delineate space and indicate location.
Since 1968, when the artist concluded that the physical construction of a work is not critical to its existence in the world, he has authored hundreds of linguistic artworks.
Weiner's linguistic sculpture “TO THE SEA / ON THE SEA / FROM THE SEA / AT THE SEA / BORDERING THE SEA” (1970), on view in Guggenheim's Artistic License.
Roy Lichtenstein, “In,” 1962, @ Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York