The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was founded in 1939 by Guggeneheim, a copper magnate, and his German adviser, the artist Baroness Hilla Rebay. Before he met Rebay, Guggenheim collected Old Masters, but she converted him to modern art.
Rebay pressed Guggenheim to collect nonobjective art, a style without recognizable figures or objects that she followed in her own work. She urged him to start a museum for such art. With her encouragement, the tycoon acquired works by Kandinsky, Gris, Léger, Moholy-Nagy and others that would one day form the groundwork for the Guggenheim's famous collection, now housed in a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark building, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009.
The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, as the Guggenheim was initially called, mingled pictures by Klee and Kandinsky with piped-in organ music, mostly Bach. It did not allow sculptures, which were deemed too ''material'' and insufficiently mystical. Not long after the museum opened in a former car showroom on East 54th Street, its founders commissioned a Wisconsin-born architect to design a temple for their collection in 1943. Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece took so long to complete that by the time the building was unveiled, on Oct. 21, 1959, both he and Guggenheim had died.
Since its opening, drawing huge crowds and controversy because of its design, the building, with its spiraled interior rising 96 feet, has been the primary reason many people go to the Guggenheim.
Museum surveys show that for the 900,000 to 1,000,000 people who visit every year, the building consistently ranked over the art as the reason for visiting. Architecture buffs say the Guggenheim is Wright's most visited building and his only major commission in New York City.
Neither the building's design nor its construction went smoothly. The only builder Wright could find to execute his drawings economically was a man whose expertise was in constructing parking garages and freeways. The building's outer wall was made by spraying layers of gunite (a mixture of sand and cement commonly used to line swimming pools) from within the building, through steel reinforcements, against pieces of plywood that were molded into the building's shape. Every few years the exterior is patched and painted, but the cosmetic touches camouflage far deeper problems.
A 2009 Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition drew more people to the Guggenheim Museum than any other exhibition since the museum started keeping track of such figures in 1992. ''Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward,'' a retrospective of Wright's work timed to the museum's 50th anniversary that included drawings and his original model for the museum, drew 372,000 visitors for the 87 days the show was open (May 15 - Aug. 23).
The Guggenheim, which has forged an international network of museums, also has locations in Venice, Berlin, Las Vegas and Bilbao, Spain, along with partnerships with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.