Arts & Life

Opinions Clash on Guggenheim's Exterior Colors

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The Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in New York is trying to decide whether to adopt an outer coat of off-gray, or one of very pale yellow. The debate over the color differences is subtle, but the debate over the two colors is very robust.


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is getting a paint job. It's a famous museum, housing important works of avant-garde art. But a paint job? Is that really news? Well, the colors under consideration have caused some debate. Museum authorities want to go with a light grey, which is close to the color the Guggenheim has been painted for 15 years. Others are excited about a light yellow, the color favored by the building's architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

From New York, here's NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: Right now, Frank Lloyd Wright's normally distinctive Guggenheim Museum has wrapped itself in the urban camouflage of construction scaffolding. When the museum's makeover is complete, it might just be wearing a coat of light yellow or might be painted a kind of grey, though the marketing department of Benjamin Moore paints would be fired if they named the paint kind of gray. So the gray is known as London Fog, here described by paint professional John Chilowsky(ph).

Mr. JOHN CHILOWSKY: So it's a muted gray, light-tone colored with a little hint of green in it.

PESCA: Chilowsky, who's the district supervisor for the Janovic/Plaza paint stores in the Guggenheim's neighborhood, next describes the yellowish tone that is mongoose to London Fog's cobra, Powell Buff(ph).

Mr. CHILOWSKY: Very light shade of gold, again, with a slight greenish cast to it.

PESCA: And so the battle is joined. Powell Buff's buffs point out that their color is closest to the one favored by the architect himself, whereas the London Foggies argue that their color isn't as radical a shift. Here in a podcast that Guggenheim put out, Pamela Jerome, who is directing the museum's preservation, explains her philosophy.

Ms. PAMELA JEROME (Director of Preservation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum): When we leave, if our work is unnoticeable, we've succeeded.

PESCA: But Seri Worden, executive director of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side, thinks Frank Lloyd Wright's vision is worth preserving.

Ms. SERI WORDEN (Executive Director, FRIENDS of the Upper East Side): The Guggenheim building by Frank Lloyd Wright, painted the color that he wanted, is an incredible opportunity that I don't think should be lost.

PESCA: Many of the people of New York's Upper East Side just off Central Park attended to as carefully as the artwork inside the museum. London Fog will do for them. Take at Nancy Hill(ph). She's just moving into the area. She says the Powell Buff is just too daring.

Ms. NANCY HILL: My feeling is the landmark will never sign off on it because of the colors of the building surrounding it, and you have a lot of limestone buildings, and it may standout like a sore thumb.

PESCA: If anything, the Guggenheim, a building, which has long stood as a spiraling upfront to the grid of Gotham, might just delight in the sore thumb designation.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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