New York

Frank Lloyd Wright “Drawings 1893–1959”

Max Protetch Gallery

Frank Lloyd Wright’s unparalleled career spanned well over half a century. The longevity of his creative production inspires amazement, but it is his persistent evolution of ideas, the diversity of his built and proposed projects, his transcendence of style, and his synthesis of contrasting esthetic objectives into an organic unity that make him an unmistakable and lasting influence. His creative work encapsulates a history of contemporary architecture as esthetic resistance and resolution recapitulated, and presages the limitations of Modernism and post-Modernism.

Wright’s organic architecture was a search for cohesion based on classical foundations that had absorbed conflicting ideas. He sought the logic of architecture not in historicism but in sources and sensations adjacent to but independent of prevailing architectural theory. Wright understood the nature of American eclecticism, and fused this cacophony into complex and complete order.

Drawing brought Wright’s imagination into ideation; his drawings comprise a constant dialogue of impulse and precision, a dialogue expressed through a hand in absolute harmony with the mind. Through the drawing process, Wright achieved the simultaneous satisfaction of architecture and ornament, function and art. The drawings are a precise record of the chronology of his ideas through an evolving language of line, tone, and technique. For example, in 1920 Wright began to use color pencil rather than watercolor; this new medium became not only a vehicle but a metaphor for a new personal synthesis of organic architecture. The blending of color with pencil created sensitive nuances, the use of lines rather than planes of color strengthening ideas of natural materials, ecology, context, and the integration of in and out, membrane and form, ornament and architecture.

This exhibition was proclaimed one of the finest displays of Wright’s drawings since his death, and the boast was justified. The selection ranged from early conceptual sketches filled with overlays, scribbles, and notes, to presentation drawings which communicate and commemorate with assuredness. The projects included such classics as the Larkin Building, the Imperial Hotel, Johnson Wax, and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as stunning lesser-known projects and proposals which conceptually link the monuments and confirm Wright’s creative diversity. There were a series of drawings for the Guggenheim chronicling the fruition of that remarkable and controversial idea; a drawing for a house at Carmel, for John W. Nesbitt, uniting site and structure in a texture of horizontal lines; and a plan for the living room of the Max Hoffman house, introducing a wild color palette and demonstrating the way each of Wright’s projects was described and each architectural convention (plan, section, elevation, and perspective) reinterpreted to satisfy the esthetics of the building and of the drawing.

Wright is hardly a discovery but the freshness of his drawings seen in concentration was inspiriting; it was impossible to feel unmoved. His crystallization of architectural ideas had moments of obstinacy—his buildings became increasingly immutable and inflexible—but invention and vision endured even when the architectural production failed. Wright’s drawings are a testament to esthetic process in the mission of invention and to the power of drawing to inspire and incite.

Patricia C. Phillips