Timothy Sakamoto’s documentary takes a look at the complicated and often controversial history behind New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the museum was 16 years in the making – a fairly lengthy gestation period, owing in large part to the unusual design of the building, which changed the concept of museum architecture through its use of a large helical ramp as the heart of the gallery space.
Throughout its conception, Wright was forced to make multiple changes to his revolutionary vision, and the famed architect’s death shortly after the start of construction resulted in more changes to the design that Wright would probably have never approved. Nonetheless, the structure is considered to be Wright’s final masterpiece and it remains one of New York’s most fascinating attractions.
Unfortunately, Sakamoto dilutes the drama of the Guggenheim story by relying too heavily on commentary from Neil Levine, an architectural historian and Harvard professor. Levine’s dreary raconteur skills leave a lot to be desired, and his habit of wandering off the subject for barely-related ruminations on Wright and modern architecture detracts from the subject.
It is a shame that Sakamoto did not seek out a wider variety of voices – or, at the very least, a single Wright expert who isn’t a crashing bore. There is clearly a fascinating story about Wright’s achievement, but trying to find it in this documentary is something of a challenge.