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Contemplating the Void

What happens when you let international architects and designers loose in the most famous spiraling void in the world? The exhibition, 'Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum.'

By No author / 17-02-2010

If you have ever traced the Guggenheim Museum’s spiraling rotunda, perhaps wondering what it would feel like to hurdle over its beefy white handrail, consider yourself not twisted, but rather in good company.

No less than world-renowned architects, artists, and designers have considered the proposition, too. In order to avoid the suicidal consequences, Brussels-based architect Julien de Smedt envisions stretching a net from one end to the other in a cascading form. Meanwhile, Dutch-born, New York–based architect Winka Dubbeldam’s stretched and grater-like forms would be more suited to tightrope-walking and climbing.

These thrill-seeking concepts are just a few of the 193 schemes submitted for “Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum,” which opened at the Guggenheim last Friday and runs through April 28. The exhibition was overseen by deputy director and chief curator Nancy Spector and Dutch-born David van der Leer, who took up the post of assistant curator for architecture and design a year and a half ago.

“Contemplating the Void” is one of several events marking the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s museum building. Guggenheim brass staged a major retrospective of the mythical architect’s oeuvre in 2009 and, just prior to that, completed a restoration of the unmistakable facade. This latest exhibition, which invited emerging and well-known talents to dream up interventions filling the museum rotunda, also figures into a long-range plan to examine and celebrate the design disciplines more broadly, van der Leer says. “We’re known for monographic shows for architects, but there’s an ambition to do more with architecture, and to weave it into the programming more than those big shows.”

Curators drew up a wish list of approximately 230 participants, most of whom were equally enthusiastic about providing schemes. Responses to the invitation largely hem to a few premises. “The desire to jump is definitely one,” van der Leer says with a chuckle. Remarking on the multiple proposals inserting nature within the interior, he sees inspiration in the sustainable-design movement. The exhibition also counts many formal counterpoints to the geometry and substance of the rotunda, meditations on light, and sound experiments.  “We were also surprised by the amount of fluids, from the shark tank to the diving station—even filling the rotunda with coffee.”

The Dutch presence at “Contemplating the Void” is proportionate to the French or Japanese showing. Moreover, the hypothetical installations coming out of the Netherlands represent a cross-section of themes. Rotterdam-based urban and landscape design studio West 8 asks whether the Guggenheim building’s iconic quality could withstand the advent of a fern meadow and giant logs. Eschewing flora, Amsterdam designer Joris Laarman considers releasing a flock of GPS-controlled robotic starlings into the rotunda.

Both Ted Noten and Studio Job flirt with fountain forms. The Amsterdam-based artist would have innumerable Swarovski crystals raining into the rotunda, in a colorful crash. The Antwerp design duo sees a giant floating gold pitcher pouring a milky substance from above. Embracing poetry instead of trends, Mark Manders, who is based in Arnhem, the Netherlands, and Ronse, Belgium, fantasizes about a tunnel connecting the rotunda to a nearby townhouse. Commenting, perhaps, on the evanescence and durability of great buildings, Rotterdam’s 24H Architecture imagines tremendous ice blocks within the rotunda, releasing poppy seeds whose flowers express the legacy of the original, frigid pile.

And with the aptly named Let’s Jump! MVRDV transforms the rotunda into an urban-scale trampoline.

With their work hung on gallery walls student crit-style, only color palettes can identify one culture’s designs from the other clothespinned and curling works on paper. “There’s something in the Dutch and Flemish treatment of these proposals, all whites and grays and pale greens,” van der Leer notes. 

Creations both flamboyant and somber will be put up for auction on March 4, with very few reserves. The proceeds will fund future curatorial efforts, which will likely include the Guggenheim’s provocative expansion of architecture programming.

Contemplating the Void
12 February - 28 April 2010

Main image: Joris Laarman
Image 1: Inside Outside (Petra Blaisse)
Image 2: MVRDV
Image 3: Studio Job
Image 4: Ted Noten
Image 5: UN Studio
Image 6: 24H Architecture
Image 7: Chris Kabel

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