Museums are lightning rods for criticism. The most public of all buildings, they're also the most vulnerable, and even long-accepted classics faced scorn in their infancy. Today we're taking a look at vintage photographs of New York City's famous museums while under construction.

It's hard to believe now, but Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum endured fusillades of derision. Before it was finished in 1962 (six months after Wright's death), it was called "the building that should be put in a museum to show how mad the 20th Century is."

The Guggenheim Museum, via

The criticism most frequently leveled at the design was that it gave only slight attention to its stated purpose: displaying art. The low ceilings limited painting size and the outward slant of the wall prevented paintings from being hung on the plane they were designed to be seen on. There were also concerns about lighting, which were only alleviated in 1992 when the skylight was enlarged (p.s. Untapped highly recommends the Futurism exhibit up now!).

Super-long exposure of MOMA under construction, via Amusing Planet

Another museum with a contentious history is the Museum of Modern Art, though the building that currently stands at 11 w. 53rd street is pretty well liked. Taniguchi's re-design, completed in the early nineties, has been feted by critics. Using perhaps the most hackneyed descriptor in architectural writing, New York Mag called it a "light-filled temple."


These pictures were taken by Michael Wesely, a German photographer who specializes in ultra-long exposures. Invited by the museum to record the construction of the museum, he set up pinhole cameras at strategic locations and then walked away… for two years.

Super-long exposure of MOMA under construction, via Amusing Planet

Visit Untapped Cities to see the rest of the New York City Museums under construction.

This post originally appeared on Untapped Cities. It was republished with permission.