Here’s your daily dose of blasphemy: as someone who has never greatly loved the architecture of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, I must say that its new restaurant, the Wright, located across from the rotunda at 88th Street and designed by Andre Kikoski, is easily the best part of the building.
Unquestionably, the Guggenheim was unprecedented in its day and it served its function admirably as an instant landmark. But it was, and remains, hell to inhabit and, despite Frank Lloyd Wright’s insistent talk about organic forms, the place he designed has always felt cold, bullying and even a little shoddy in its workmanship.
So it was an unexpected pleasure recently to visit the new eatery and find that, even as it pays elaborate homage to the famous architect, it somehow manages to recreate the Guggenheim’s formal vocabulary with greater skill and feeling than it had the first time around, 50 years ago.
A narrow, curving, swirling space, the new restaurant is all of 1,600 square feet that has been filled with happy, lively diners. Along the walls is a striking and exuberantly site-specific work by the British artist, Liam Gillick, titled “The horizon produced by a factory once it had stopped producing views.” Don’t ask me what the title means. Something between a sculpture and a painting, it unfolds as lengths of ribbon-like colors that cling to the southern wall and ceiling of the restaurant. Surfaces are topped with white Corian, an industrial material made by Dupont, and the seating is covered in blue leather. Seating ranges from benches to bar stools that collect around a narrow surface that boomerangs its way through the center of the space.
New York-based Kikoski has already designed a café stand for the entrance of the museum, not to mention a number of other spaces around the city. These include the Pong Dessert Bar as well as the Z Hotel in Long Island City. In addition, he has designed a number of lofts around the city, not to mention the Yahoo store in Rockefeller Center.
Such is the success of this latest project, however, that it would be a pleasure to see this architect realize a bigger project in the near future.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.