New York’s Metropolitan Museum (‘The Met”) is an amazing collection of art and artefacts gathered together under one roof. What is noticeable is that so many of the major treasures and much of the redevelopment work that has been undertaken over the years has been funded by the gifts from wealthy patrons. I have heard it rather unkindly said that in such a young country being seen to be philanthropic and overly generous is, in itself a status symbol, a note that you have truly arrived.
However, if you are one of the senior members of a hugely wealthy mining dynasty, why settle for contributing a piece to the Met – which is already bulging with so many trophy pieces – or donating towards its restoration, why not establish your own Foundation and house its stunning collection in one of the most iconic buildings ever built, on one of the major thoroughfares through perhaps the most iconic City in the world – Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, situated at 1071 Fifth Avenue and East 89th Street, is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of art and special exhibitions.
Above all, Solomon was a keen art collector – retiring from his businesses in 1919 to focus on collecting. In 1926 he became enamoured – with the encouragement of the artist, Hilla von Rebay – the first Director of Guggenheim’s Museum – with the works of modern artists including Kandinsky, Mondrian, Chagall, Modigliani, Moholy-Nagy and Picasso turning his back on his established collection of Old Masters.
In addition to various large bequests, the Museum’s collection has been continually enhance since the early 1950’s with the inclusion of works by Giacometti, de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. More recently, the Museum’s photographic collection was initiated by a gift, in 1992, from Robert Mapplethorpe’s estate of 200 of his finest photographs.
The Museum established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937 with the defined intention of fostering an appreciation of modern art, moved to its iconic home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1959 – opening its door on 21st October. Its internal concentric spiralling gallery, hugs the shape of the building and climbs six floors for the bottom to the top. The Museum was largely renovated in 1992 – with the restoration of the the skylight – and extended in 2005/2008.
Guggenheim died on Long Island in 1949, so sadly didn’t get to see the building he had commissioned Lloyd Wright, in 1943, to design. The Museum was the only one designed by Wright, who also died six months before its opening. It became a registered National Historic Landmark on October 6, 2008.
The Guggenheim Dynasty owes its origins to Meyer Guggenheim, a Swiss citizen of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, who arrived in America in 1847 and was Solomon’s father. Known for their activities in the US and Chilean mining businesses – including the Yukon Gold Company – the family are now largely represented by investment vehicles such as Guggenheim Partners (with over $200 bn in assets) and Guggenheim Investment Advisors (with assets of circa $50 bn).