If Frank Lloyd Wright had gotten his way, you would forever descend down the outer limits of the Guggenheim Museum’s nautilus shell instead of trekking upward from the ground floor atrium. But Mr. Wright’s preferences for exhibition design weren’t loved by curators from the get-go. Immediately after the building opened in 1959 the clerestory windows that filtered in daylight along the outer walls were replaced by artificial lighting and images were hung on a plumb line from metal rails rather than leaned against the 97-degree walls, Wright’s personal practice for setting up his drawings on an easel.
Wright’s scenographic ideas centered around a quarter-mile-long concrete band sloping down gently with seventy intimate alcoves to help visitors focus on the work in front of them. But the central lightwell with its Gothic-looking glass roof was as much a part of the viewing experience as was the temporary exhibition.
The idea of modeling negative space was also at the heart of the practice of architect-turned-artist Gertrud Goldschmidt. Gego’s famous wire sculptures grew out of a decades-long exploration of the effects of lines and grids on circumscribing spaces that, at times, populated entire galleries. It was as much what was in between the lines that mattered: shadows, moirés, overlays, the effects of gravity. Exhibitions were arguably her largest drawings and there are a couple of leftover plans for displays that make it clear how much she thought, if not on an urban scale, at the scale of the building: They ranged from wild point clouds to pure structural beauty painted with the help of spotlights.
Gego’s show at the Guggenheim puts her metal sculptures, which formerly filled every nook and cranny of a gallery, on neat white pedestals that even out the 5-percent slope of the museum’s ramp. Under the inexorably well-lit ribbon of Wright’s restored clerestory windows they are tamed as objects rather than being multifaceted and sometimes ethereal drawings in space. As you ascend you follow her artistic journey from drawing to spatial explorations and back to almost paper-like exploding metal grids. In a nutshell.
Gego: Measuring Infinity, Guggenheim Museum, New York
curated by Pablo León de la Barr and Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães