And it's so long, Frank Lloyd Wright: More than 30 years on, the Guggenheim Museum is again embroiled in controversy. Ultan Guilfoyle explains why

THE cartoon in the New Yorker caught the public mood. Two befurred Upper East Side women accosting a mounted policeman in front of a strange building: 'Say officer, are they allowed to do that on Fifth Avenue?'

The building was the Guggenheim Museum, perhaps the greatest work of one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the public reaction to its opening in 1959 was decidedly mixed. Quickly, however, the fun that New Yorkers poked at the building turned to affection and the building became one of the great New York landmarks.

Frank Lloyd Wright, after 17 years of relentless battles to construct the building, would have been proud. He never saw the finished product and perhaps it is just as well. He died six months before thebuilding opened, and in those six months several crude and functional alterations were made. Parts of the building were closed to the public to provide office and storage space for the museum director, James Johnson Sweeney, and his staff.

Thirty-three years after it was finished, the building remains the city's most controversial. A functional 10-storey extension has added to the lengthy debate over Wright's masterpiece.

The building was not, to begin with, an easy one in which to show pictures. Its key signature, the swirling, sweeping ramp, meant that it was impossible to look at a picture 'on the level'. None of this mattered to Wright. He did not care for the art that the building was to show; an astonishing collection of abstract 'non-objective' art. Indeed, he did not care much for art at all.

By the late 1980s the building had fallen into a sad state. Like many of Wright's buildings, it was not holding up well to the passing of the years. It looked and felt tatty. And the difficulties of presenting art in the building had, with the expansion of the Guggenheim collection, become even greater.

When Thomas Krens was appointed director of the Guggenheim in 1988 he decided to renovate Wright's building inside and out, to make it look like it had just left the original architect's drawing board.

Mr Krens had as his strong ally the architect Charles Gwathmey of the New York company Gwathmey Siegel. But Mr Gwathmey and Mr Krens had a battle on their hands. The very same people who so objected to the Guggenheim Museum back in the 1950s - those same befurred Upper East Side women from the cartoon - were now fighting to defend their 'masterpiece' from any interference.

Leading the campaign was the stuffy Carnegie Hill Neighbors Association, which represented the area of million- dollar residences immediately surrounding the Guggenheim. They hired lawyers, academics and architects to mount a campaign against Mr Gwathmey. They even managed to enlist the support of some of Wright's former associates and apprentices. Once their campaign gained momentum it seemed that they couldn't be stopped.

The affair was riddled with an irony that is not lost on Charlie Gwathmey. 'Some of the very same people, to a man and a woman, who were involved in a campaign against Frank Lloyd Wright's original scheme, now, 30 years later, have attacked my plans quite viciously,' he said.

Time and again Mr Gwathmey's designs were rejected by the New York City authorities, siding with the Carnegie Hill Neighbors. But each objection was met with stiff resistance from Mr Gwathmey, Mr Krens and the Guggenheim Foundation - and they finally won the battle. The extension opened at the end of June and has been a talking point ever since.

The results of the two-year renovation and extension - which cost dollars 55m (pounds 28m) - remain controversial but are regarded by many critics as an irrefutable triumph. The soaring beauty of Wright's original building seems all the greater now that you can walk right to the top of the quarter-mile ramp.

Gwathmey Siegel's slender new wing, with its three double-height galleries, almost doubles the space available for the Guggenheim collection.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Systems Administrator

£25000 - £35000 per annum + bonus + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: IT Sy...

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

Regional Marketing Manager - Northern Europe

£42000 - £45000 per annum + 10% bonus: Ashdown Group: Regional Marketing Manag...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor