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When Frank Lloyd Wright was asked in 1959 if his unusual, curved design for the new Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York might overpower the art inside, the architect replied, “On the contrary, it was to make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the world of art before.”
Fifty-five years after Wright’s swirling design for the Guggenheim changed the way people view art — and the way architects design museums and galleries — art spaces have continued to come unstuck from the conventional and are often expected to be as much of a draw, and a provocation, as the works they contain.
The trend, expressed most obviously in landmark buildings by celebrity architects, has trickled down to small galleries and caused big, traditional institutions to rethink how they display and curate art.
At the Barbican Center in London, the Curve gallery is an example of an unusually shaped art space in the middle of a traditional, rectiform center. Its 90-degree curved design, wrapping around the back of the performing arts center’s main music hall, has been by turns a challenge and a blessing, and its function continues to evolve even after 30 years’ existence.