The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: G

Gossipy Pleasures

At least once a summer, we like to indulge in a good old juicy beach read. This season there’s Mercury in Retrograde, the debut novel from Paula Froelich, the waggish blonde scribe at the New York Post’s “Page Six.” Due out from Atria Books in June, the book tells the story of three New York women—a newspaper reporter named Penelope Mercury, who gets fired; a socialite fashion editor, Lena “Lipstick” Lippencrass; and a recently divorced corporate lawyer, Dana Gluck, who learns her cheating ex-husband’s new wife is pregnant. “These characters’ lives get flipped upside down,” says Froelich. “They lose their jobs, their income, and what do you do when your life falls apart? You put one foot in front of the other—and you need good friends and good humor to do it. This is postmodern chick lit. It’s about how to get a life, not just a man.”

The Guggenheim Turns 50

“The most controversial building ever to rise” in Manhattan is how The New York Times described the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum when it opened in 1959. Robert Moses, less generously, called Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling six-story structure “an inverted oatmeal dish.” But a half-century later the museum stands as one of the city’s true architectural icons, and it recently wrapped up a three-year, $29 million restoration in time for its golden anniversary.

Initially conceived as a home for so-called nonobjective, purely abstract works by artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, the Guggenheim has, in the past decade or so, presented a mix of national-themed blockbusters (Brazil, China, Russia); critically problematic, if popular, corporate exhibitions (Armani fashion, motorcycles—sponsored by BMW); and major monographic shows on leading contemporary artists. Today the museum’s rotunda is the ultimate showcase for dramatic installations, such as Cai Guo-Qiang’s cascade of exploding cars last year.

For its big anniversary the Guggenheim is presenting “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward,” a show of models, drawings, and photographs from the architect’s 70-year career, May 15 to August 23. Up next, September 18 to January 10, 2010, is a sprawling exhibition of some 100 works by Kandinsky, probably the artist admired most by Guggenheim, who collected under the guidance of his mistress, the German artist Hilla Rebay. “Kandinsky’s relevance today,” says curator Tracey Bashkoff, “is his ideas about how art can be an antidote to materialism.”

In addition to the renovations, which included fixing cracks in the building’s façade and upgrading the mechanical systems, the Guggenheim seems to have stabilized after a rocky period under the leadership of Thomas Krens, who was accused by many of putting an agenda of corporatelike expansion ahead of art while straining the museum’s finances. Critics point to unrealized proposals for Guggenheim branches from Hong Kong to Venice to Rio to Lower Manhattan. A few did get built—in SoHo and Las Vegas (both now closed), Berlin, and, most successfully, Bilbao. Plans are also going forward on a new Frank Gehry–designed museum in Abu Dhabi, slated to open in 2013, and the Guggenheim is involved in a joint project with Russia’s State Hermitage Museum for a new museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, designed by Zaha Hadid.

Though Krens remains an advisor to the Guggenheim Foundation (mainly overseeing the Abu Dhabi project), the hiring of Richard Armstrong as director is seen as a major changing of the guard. “The Guggenheim is all grown up and cleaned up,” says Armstrong. “Now it has the chance to become a happy, healthy, and newly energized middle-aged citizen.”