Sunday, October 26, 2003

Book Review: Two Frank Lloyd Wright Books

Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill
Da Capo Press, 1998
Paperback, 544 pages

The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog by William Allin Storrer.
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Hardcover, 593 pages

Brendan Gill's approach to the life of Frank Lloyd Wright as a man wearing a series of masks over his ninety years - from artist-writer-dandy to professional great man - is as an analogy that may not be appropriate. Wright's personal relationships and relationships with clients are the focus of the book, particularly his willingness to lie in order to deflect emotions or to garner jobs. As such, the book reads much like contemporary tabloid fare, though it does provide insight into the architect's life beyond the built structures that remain and speak to us in different ways. Although a satisfying read, mainly because Gill has an ability to put us into the time and place of the situations, the book does not give us the depth that Wright's life deserves. A life of masks, or facades, is a fitting device to create a story, but not a device suitable for the life of the "greatest American architect".

Storrer's catalog of all of Wright's built work makes a suitable companion to Gill's biography, since illustrations in the latter are common for notable buildings but sparse or nonexistent for lesser-known ones mentioned in the text. The catalog is in three parts: an introduction, a roughly chronological, illustrated catalog of built works from S.000 to S.433 (Storrer's system for cataloging), and a section of maps and driving directions for every building. Updated in 2002, the third edition of the field guide and catalog is indispensable to any serious Wright enthusiast as a means to experience his genius firsthand.

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