New York's Guggenheim Still Turns Heads

Beginning 50 years ago this past week, out-of-town art lovers visiting New York have headed straight for the Guggenheim Museum - only to follow a twisting path once they get inside.

Controversial at birth, the museum is now an architectural icon, as CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports.

Even as the Guggenheim turns 50, it's still turning heads. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's famous spiral museum attracts about a million visitors a year.

In 1956, when it began to take shape on New York city's Upper East Side it attracted a lot of criticism.

"New York is usually a follower, not a leader, in stuff like this," said Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic for "The New Yorker." "And suddenly, New York has the most radical building in the world."

Back then, the New York Times called it a "war between architecture and painting in which both came out badly maimed."

Still, Frank Lloyd Wright - who died six months before the museum opened - dismissed critics of his only creation in New York City.

"Someone told me the building on Fifth Avenue looked like a washing machine, but I always discounted it," Wright had said.

And history, it seems, is on his side.

"It was one of the greatest things made in the 20th century. It's one of the greatest museum buildings of all time," Goldberger said. "It's not a small statement, it's a very serious statement - this building is greatest of all time."

Wright's design takes museum goers along a continuous, curving ramp. The space - and the art itself - unfolds in front of you...

Curator Karol Vail says that presents an advantage - and a challenge.

"You have to take the space vertically and horizontally," she said. "You have to be able to visualize the art from all different kinds of perspectives."

It has its quirks, too.

"We had to come up with special devices and contraptions to hang the paintings," Vail said. "So they can in fact hang straight."

Right now, it's Kandisky on the walls. His work is often considered an ideal match for a museum designed to hold abstract and contemporary art.

But a quick visit reveals that the art can almost seem like an afterthought.

"Of course we are delighted if people come look at the building," Vail said. "At the same time you do want them to look at the art."

That's an artistic conflict Wright purposely intended.

The building says that "art and architecture can enter into a dialogue with each other and they can kind of get into the ring and joust with each other and it doesn't mean you are going to lose the art or have it overshadowed," Goldberger said. "In fact, sometimes it can create something more exciting."