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October 25, 2006

A day of Guggenheim

A few days ago I visited the Guggenheim exhibition in Bonn (former capital of the Federal German Republic) together with my mother. One part of the exhibition is called The Guggenheim Collection with paintings of famous modern artists and another The Guggenheim Architecture. The latter one shows models of museums all over the world that have been proposed or been actually built to house some part of the vast collection of Solomon Guggenheim and his niece Peggy.

The museum in Bonn - quite interesting in itself from an architectural point of view

We started with the Guggenheim Architecture and were immediately taken with the models on display. The first Guggenheim Museum was opened in New York in 1959. The work of its architect Frank Lyloyd Wright is a true milestone of architecural development. The visitor is allowed to go up on a spiralling ramp which eventually reaches a gigantic glass dome. No more walking through claustrophobic rooms elbowing your way to the front to catch a glimpse of a famous picture. If you recall what the architecture was like in the late 50's and bear in mind that Wright started working on it already as early as 1943 it is a truly astonishing building.

Another breathtaking building is of course the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao which was opened in 1997. Its shape is very unusual and I suspect you actually needed computers to plan it. The combination of the materials stone, steel, glass and titanium is also new and unusual. The architect is Frank Gehry and the museum proved to be an enormous asset and motor to the economic and structural development of the city of Bilbao. It had cost 85 million Euros to built the museum but the town got the money back over the first three years from tax revenues directly associated with the museum.

Frank Gehry also proposed another museum for New York which looks a bit like the one in Bilbao. Plans existed to built it at the East River. The museum would have been a 40 storey building which looked like a cluster of clouds in steel. The model is truly fascinating. But after the terrorists' attacks on 9/11 and a decreasing economy and in view of the environmental problems a building on and over the water would have created the Guggenheim foundation pulled out of this project. A pity, if you ask me.

The most daring proposal was perhaps the one for Rio de Janeiro in 2002 by Jean Nouvel. The building was to be built at the waterfront and a large part of it would have been inside the water below the surface like a big aquarium. I can well imagine that the light effects would have been fantastic. If a building like that would have worked with regard to fire protection and evacuation in cases of emergency is quite another matter. I suppose all of the models we saw must have given Fire Protection and Safety Engineers sleepless nights and a fair amount of headaches. In the end the project met with so much opposition that it wasn't realised.

It is impossible to describe every exhibit here. You simply have to go to Bonn and see for yourself.

Having taken in this impressive display of architecture we headed upstairs for the real paintings and sculptures. What is remarkable about the exhibition is that it consists of well known artists but not necessarily of well known paintings. There are quite a number of lesser known ones. The exhibition is big enough to fill you with enough art for one day it is not so big that you simply want to get out and leave in the end.

My favourite painting was one by Pablo Picasso. There were beautiful paintings of Picasso. There's no one like him to express a whole world of things in one stroke of his brush. The one I liked best, though, is called 'Lobster and Cat'. The cat must have jumped up on the kitchen table and almost walked into the lobster who's not quite dead yet. You get the impression he's sharpening his scissors while carefully watching every movement of the cat. And you can see how terrified the cat is by her wide open eyes and how very hard she's trying to give the impression of a very dangerous animal by hissing raising her hackles and digging her claws into the table. Fascinating piece of art, isn't it?

I have to admit that I wasn't equally impressed by the comtemporary artists and their work from the 70's onwards. I might need another decade or two to get used to it. After the paintings we went downstairs again and went through the 'installations'. The most impressive one was a labyrinth made from plywood and painted bluish grey. It was about 3 m high but fortunately had no roof. Five people at a time were allowed to enter it. It wasn't a proper maze though because there was only one very narrow (perhaps 80 cm in width or even less), winding passage leading into the centre where there was just enough room for five people to turn around and retreat their steps to get out again. The passage was 132 m long (one way!) and because you had to turn so many corners you soon lost all sense of direction. An eerie and claustrophobic experience! But good fun all the same.

Although it's an almost two hours drive to Bonn it has been a journey well worth the effort If you like to find out more yourself try this link.

Posted by Mausi at October 25, 2006 07:23 PM

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