The Eye of the Storm, Works in Situ by Daniel Buren Opens March 25

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A Conversation With Daniel Buren
SUSAN CROSS It has been almost 35 years since your work Peinture-Sculpture was removed from the museum's rotunda and the Guggenheim International Exhibition, 1971. The new work you've created for the museum, Around the Corner, also directly addresses the museum's legendary, central space. The title of the exhibition The Eye of the Storm seems to refer in part to the "storm" or controversy sparked in 1971. Can you comment on the relationship between the two works and tell us how the current work is informed by your history with the Guggenheim and the reactions provoked by the 1971 piece?

DANIEL BUREN The Eye of the Storm is a general title for the show, and I do hope that it is open enough to allow several interpretations. The one I personally prefer comes directly from Frank Lloyd Wright's building, which the architect called a kind of a vortex.

In addition to this historical reference, the center of my work Around the Corner and the center of the museum's architecture match each other perfectly. Right there, we are in "the eye of the storm": Everything is calm, quiet, and peaceful, while the rest of the museum twirls around it, up and down like a strong hurricane. It is also true that all the fury and complaints which led to the censure of my previous work in 1971 came from the ramps where the wind blows!

As we know, the work I wanted to present in 1971 was also situated right in the middle of Wright's building. At that time I always said that the museum's pool on the ground floor was designed like an eye and the circles around the fountain (in the middle of this pool) like a pupil; Wright had designed an iris. I always believed that the Guggenheim's architecture, as beautiful as it is, was designed to distract the viewer from the interior walls (walls which did not even exist at that time, making each painting a kind of floating object suspended between the two oblique lines of the floor and ceiling). The works that were hung on those walls were thrust far from the center by a strong centrifugal force, while the eyes of the viewer were drawn irresistibly back toward the center by centripetal force. In fact, one just had to look down to see the big eye (the pool) looking back. The meaning of this design was clear to me: The museum (i.e., the architecture) looks at you, so look back at it! It is the best work around. One can even say: the best sculpture around. Anything else, exhibited here, will always be dominated by this architectural masterpiece. No doubt. The museum opens a deep contradiction for the viewer. On the one hand, he or she is supposed to see the works on the walls; on the other hand, the museum architecture always pulls him or her to the center, where little can be seen other than the architecture itself.

My work in 1971 is based on this analysis, as well as the character of the Guggenheim International as a group show.

Today I still believe that the strength of the Guggenheim Museum is the same but my interpretation of the central eye has changed. Now I believe that Frank Lloyd Wright, who himself spoke about a vortex, saw his own "eye of the storm" as a metaphoric statement (made with water!) indicating that he understood the effect of his work: He would remain totally calm in the face of the rising storm that his new structure would unleash in the world of architecture, even as he created a storm against contemporary works of art by refusing them a decent wall for hanging!


Portrait of Daniel Buren standing in front of Around the Corner, 2000–05, work in situ, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: David M. Heald, © SRGF, N.Y.