I paid $1 to see the Guggenheim for 30 minutes. And I won.

The number one rule to seeing art museums? Don’t get there 30 minutes before the museum closes.

I broke the number one rule to seeing art museums. Ticket sales for the Gug ends 30 minutes before closing. I got there 27 minutes before closing and paid my $1 for pay-as-you-wish night (ironically, that’s actually all I had since I forgot to refill my wallet).

Shucks, there’s no way you can see an entire art museum in 30 minutes, right? Very right, but you can see an art museum satisfactorily in 30 minutes. The Guggenheim is not a huge place; I was able to stroll through the entire main gallery, spending time on the few pieces that I really wanted to explore.

That said, a huge part of the Guggenheim is the viewing experience. In fact, I think the Guggenheim itself is a bigger piece of art than any of the art pieces, so much so that if the Guggenheim had no art inside it would still be worthy of visiting.

I’m not going to spoil it for you, but the main gallery is actually a 7-story spiral walkway that’s deadend at the top and entrance at the bottom. What you should do is take the elevator to the top and walk your way down. They close down the museum by squeezing people out starting from the top level – perfect for closing time adventurers like me.

My favorite quality of this gallery layout is that you are never truly left alone to face an artwork. No matter where you are, you can see and hear viewers from every other part of the gallery. The art is not in a quiet, empty room; instead, it faces an open space. I don’t understand art and I don’t understand proper art viewing, but this type of viewing seems to very suited for the modern and contemporary works held in the Gug (I think you would go crazy if it was an empty room, you, and a bunch of paintings that don’t make sense.)

Apart from refreshing myself on some art terms I almost forgot about (Dadaism, figure-ground, etc.), my biggest gain from this trip to Guggenheim was an epiphany painting that evolved my understanding of “What is art” just a bit further.

This painting was a huge, yellow canvas with a miscellany of grayscale marks, splotches, and blotches gathered in the middle (forgot the name, unfortunately). I took an immediate liking to the piece. Despite calling myself a “designer”, my understanding of art has always been very fuzzy. My typical reaction to a work of marks, splotches, and blotches is confusion, “Why is this good art and an average Joe’s failed painting experiment not art,” yet this here was a painting of marks, splotches, and blotches that I wanted to hang in my living room.

I ended up with this explanation: it really is all about aesthetics of the composition, and that’s something that I do have a grasp on. Even without any advanced techniques or attempt at realism, if you can compose a series of lines and forms that evokes aesthetic satisfaction, then that is good art. Someone else can create the same lines and forms with paint but may not ever create a composition that has the same sense of aesthetics.

As a designer, I know that’s something I would not be able to devote my life to. Design, to me, has always been about using good aesthetics to better a functional object. The fun and the challenge is in creating aesthetics around an object that is already limited in form by its technical composition and must still satisfy a function in the best possible way for the user. The fortunate thing is that creating the better aesthetics usually goes hand in hand with polishing the user function. In art, it is too easy to create good aesthetics if the entire function of the piece is to be good aesthetics (of course, the flip side is that there is a much bigger creative challenge when there is no limit at all). The added bonus of being a designer is the fuzzy feeling that every work you produce, assuming that you are a good designer, has a positive tangible effect on the world because that functional object would otherwise be still be used, but in a less enjoyable, less pleasing manner.

(Of course, all of this is based on my current understanding art. There is still a huge amount of non-aesthetically-good art that is deemed as good art that I fear will take a much longer time for me to comprehend.)

Besides that, I found two pieces that strangely look Kanye-inspired, or more accurately, like Kanye’s inspiration. One piece I found is definitely an artist’s interpretation of the Windows 8 homescreen, done 3 decades before Microsoft was born.

This Gug visit is just one installation of my tourist blitz. I also visited the Forbes Galleries and LES Tenement Museum on Saturday, the same day that my Breaker experience wrapped up. With 3 days left in NYC, I’m going to be “touristin’ it up” and checking out all the things that I hadn’t seen in my 3 months here (a.k.a. everything).
Live every week with GIM (goal-in-mind)