The isolation of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'complete works of art'
Ten years in the making - or does one say 10 years in the remaking, or 10 years from demolition to crating, to uncrating, to restoring and resurrecting - what does one say of the Frank Lloyd Wright living room opened last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?Skip to next paragraph
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One can state the facts: the Francis W. Little House came down from its Wayzata, Minn., site in 1972, 60 years after its design; was packed away for a decade; then reframed and redetailed down to the banks of Wright-made stained-glass windows and furnishings. And now, Wright's biggest room, 30 by 45 feet, is boxed forever into America's biggest museum.
One can go beyond the facts to describe the impression of the place in a less-happy fashion. Entering through the Museum's American Wing, siphoned to the side by a rope arrangement, one encounters environs that are bland to the point of being wan. If beige were a state of mind and not just a color, the word would apply to this pallid canvas from the architect's oeuvre.
One must certainly also state the controversy that surrounds all period rooms. ''Cut down all the trees, put them in a tree museum,'' goes the folk song. And those who espouse the cause of architecture, endorse it in situ - in its space of origin rather than its entombment in museums.
Wright, above all, resists museum excerpting. His aims were contextual. ''Organic'' is the operative word. His site plans made sure that levels slotted into landscape, landscape into house. Isolation undermines all that.
Moreover, if ''destruction of the box,'' as he put it, mattered, what do these boxy extractions say of his aims - of progression, openness, of chambers intended to flow into one another; in, out, left, right, surprising, changing as the walker moves.
To have one Little house room here; another, the library, sold to the Allentown, Pa., museum; windows at the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts; and the master-bedroom hallway in the Dallas Art Museum multiplies the distortion. Does one chop and crop a Picasso? Must one now play Humpty Dumpty and travel cross-country to put the Little home together again?
In this case the building was doomed, and the Metropolitan did perform a rescue act of a costly 300-foot-long structure.
But the reported $500,000 to $1 million cost for a more gargantuan than glorious Wright house makes one wonder.
Especially so when another, far better, Wright work, the Ward Willits home in Highland Park, Ill., has an uncertain fate, facing demolition or ''museumification.''
While some of Wright's surviving 300 or so homes (of an original 400) suffer from the poverty of their citifying neighborhoods, the Ward Willits home, like the Little house, is plagued by affluence. The costliness of its site - compounded by the owners' willingness and capacity to sell off fragments like the 100-plus stained-glass windows to art-loving vandals - jeopardizes the home.
It is, as Carla Lind, director of the Wright home and studio in Oak Park puts it, a travesty.