Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward

Special exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum through August 23.

Growing up in Florida, I visited Florida Southern College on numerous occasions—for church events, for music camp, to see the name of my grandmother, valedictorian of the class of 1952, immortalized on a kind of Sidewalk of Honor (I love you, Grandma!)—so I spent a good deal of time wandering around the campus Frank Lloyd Wright designed, the largest collection of his work in the world. This could have been a charming story if I’d appreciated that work, but in fact, I hated it. I considered the long, flat buildings and especially the unnervingly low-ceilinged esplanades to be squat and oppressive, and the sharp angles and red glass of the chapel felt angry and disquieting.

Later, my brother pointed out that the graceful white building that serves as the site for Ophelia’s mad scene in Michael Almereyda’s modern-day Hamlet (intriguing but clumsy, by the way) is the Guggenheim, also designed by Wright, which just confused me. How could the same architect have designed both the menacing slab buildings of the college campus and the pure, soaring spiral of the museum? Frankly, even now that I know more about Wright than I did as a child, I find it difficult to reconcile my wildly mixed feelings about his work.