By Carter B. Horsley
When an artist suddenly
becomes recognized, it is usually because his oeuvre has moved
toward an innovative "signature" style that others can
easily recognize and even extrapolate future works or variations.
That is an adequate
definition for most artists, but "great" artists, or
"masters," or "geniuses," often make life
difficult by working in more than one style, and sometimes, genre,
For some "great"
artists, their "signature" style affords them great
latitude for experimentation, but for others the depths of their
creativity may lead them into ruts, or boredom.
Architects are spatial
artists and it is the nature of art to evolve, refine and challenge
itself, and, hopefully, to stir the imagination of others.
In the last quarter
of the 20th Century, Frank Gehry established himself first as
an eclectic maverick and then as the major molder of form in architecture,
culminating in the spectacular, sinuous and shiny museum he designed
for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, unquestionably
the most important new building of the past three or four decades,
one that has heralded an exciting new age for civic architecture.
Gehry is a great, daring
artist and one suspects that he has a low threshold for repetition
and that he tackles each new project with excitement, curiosity
and enthusiasm and is not too concerned about any need for adopting
a consistent "signature" style.
Still, his imprimatur
is usually quite evident, especially in his more recent work.
The Bilbao museum is
explosively energetic in its very complex, curved form. It is
not standard issue, but a very special and very dramatic environment
whose various diverse components serve specific interior functions
but are organically unified by its startling and dazzling exterior.
One does not try to "read" this kind of architecture
so much as dive into it and be swept along its surprising meanderings.
While the history of architecture has many unusual and interesting
"follies," Bilbao is no mere "folly," but
was designed in large part to be a major urban catalyst for change,
which is to say a very important, highly visible statement, a
new city "identity."
Such commissions, of
course, do not come along often, so it is all the more remarkable
that the Guggenheim subsequently commissioned Gehry to design
a similar project for the East River waterfront in downtown Manhattan
and the architect responded with an equally gargantuan, equally
awesome, equally stupendous design (see The
City Review article.) For the past few months, the museum
has exhibited Gehry's designs for the downtown project, and now
it has turned over all the exhibition space in Frank Lloyd Wright's
great spiral rotunda at the museum to a retrospective of Gehry's
work (which also includes a huge model of the downtown project).
The smaller exhibition
on the downtown project was fabulous, but quite overwhelming as
it included hundreds of photographs, drawings and models just
for that project.
For the retrospective,
Gehry shipped 20 truckloads of models and photographs to the Guggenheim
and this retrospective is equally dense, which is not to imply
that it is abstruse or difficult.
The exhibition tries
to contain about three dozen different projects within the spiral
ramp's existing divisions and they are crammed with models and
huge photographic blow-ups and fairly long wall labels. Gehry's
models range from the rough to the highly finished and in several
of the projects the finished design bears little resemblance to
The exhibition is accompanied
by a large hardcover catalogue, published by Harry N. Abrams Inc.,
which includes many photographs of finished projects not included
in the exhibition.
Born in Toronto, Gehry
moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1947 when he was 17. An
article by Mildred Friedman, the exhibition's guest curator, in
the museum's monthly publication notes that Los Angeles had a
"profound impact" on Gehry: "Its stucco bungalows,
chain-link fences, Spanish tiles, waving palms, and the motion
and vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean are all a part of Gehry's
architecture. His ability to capture a sense of place continues
in his work today, even as the locations of his projects change.
His designs in Europe and the Near East - Prague, Berlin, and
soon Jerusalem - incorporate an understanding of the old cities,
yet never duplicate old forms. Rather, they respond in dialogue
with those rich architectural histories."
Gehry's work is influenced
somewhat by Rudolph M. Schindler, Harwell Hamilton Harris, and
Frank Lloyd Wright but also by the molded plywood chairs of Charles
and Ray Eames and Gehry is almost as well known for his sinuous
"Easy Edges" (1969-73) and "Experimental Edges"
(1979-82) chairs of cardboard and his many fish and snake lamps
(1983-1986) made with Colorcore, a translucent plastic laminate
as he is for his architecture.
He first came to prominence
with his redesign of his Santa Monica house in 1977-8 that featured
corrugated sheet metal, plywood and chain-link fencing. The house
achieved wide fame as a low-tech-high-design "shanty,"
and in 1978 he began work on campus for the law school of Loyola
Marymount University in Los Angeles that comprised a cluster of
different buildings "like an acropolis."
One of Gehry's best design foresaw the advent
of "Deconstructivism" many years later. It was his unbuilt
plan for the Familian Residence in Santa Monica, California in
1978, a model of which is shown above.
The commission that
catapulted him into the nation's architectural hierarchy was the
Winton Guest House in Wayzata, Minnesota, which was completed
in 1987 and consists of boldly different geometric structures.
The catalogue entry for this project notes that "Influenced
by Giorgio Morandi's still life paintings of bottles and jars,
Gehry designed a cluster of rectangular, square, wedge, and cone-shaped
buildings, which are nestled between trees and exist independently
from the rest of the estate." "Exaggerating the concept
of a one-room building, Gehry articulates the guest house into
individual shapes, which remain connected internally. Each form
is sheathed in a single material - brick, Finnish plywood, and
sheet metal - that imbues a sleek elegance, which is a departure
from the roughness of Gehry's earlier structures.
Gehry was commissioned
to design the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 1987,
a project, which will be clad in waves of stainless steel and
have 360 degrees of seating and a large organ with angled pipes,
only now being completed and in 1996 he completed the Team Disneyland
Administration Building in Anaheim, California, a four-story structure
that presents a reflective, blue-green stainless-steel façade
with angled skirt to the adjoining freeway and a yellow stucco
curvilinear façade on the other side facing the amusement
park. This project is very elegant.
His work with furniture
also led to a commission in 1987 for the Vitra International Manufacturing
Facility and Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Gehry maintains
that architectural variety promotes urban excitement and has often
collaborated with other architects. The Vitra complex, for example,
also has buildings designed by Tadao Ando, Nichola Grimshaw, and
Zaha Hadid and Gehry worked with artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje
van Bruggen on the Chiat/Day Building in Venice, California in
1991 and with sculptor Richard Serra on a 1996 proposal for the
Financial Times Millennium Bridge Competition in London and with
David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on a competition
proposal for the New York Times headquarters in 2000 and with
Jean Nouvel on the Arena Centre redevelopment project in Prague
In 1993, Gehry completed
the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at the University of Minnesota
in Minneapolis, his first major urban "gateway" project"
and his first major use of highly reflective metal cladding, which
he would use with spectacular effect for the Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao that was opened in 1997 and has planned to use for the
Guggenheim Museum New York at the foot of Wall Street (see The City Review article). The Weisman museum
project employed stainless-steel cladding on its west façade
overlooking the Mississippi River and adjacent to the Washington
Avenue Bridge. Other major Gehry "gateway" projects
include the Nationale-Nederlanden Building of 1996 in Prague,
the Experience Music Project of 2000 in Seattle and the 1987 Fishdance
Restaurant in Kobe, Japan, and the Vontz Center for Molecular
Studies at the University of Cincinnati, which was completed in
1999 and is notable for its use of brick in the tilting and bulging
The Guggenheim's rotunda
has been hung with enormous "sails" of metal mesh. Gehry
has played before with the rotunda, most notably with his silvery
reflective panels for the museum's recent motorcycle show that
converted the great space into a high-tech, mirrored marvel. The
metal mesh "sails," however, were not completely installed
for the press preview and while impressive and somewhat reminiscent
of the architect's great sinuous curves at Bilbao they were of
a dull finish more reminiscent of his "chain-link" fences
and not very inspirational.
Gehry's oeuvre displays
a rich, fertile imagination and great client empathy. His design
for the Bilbao museum has been widely and correctly hailed as
one of the most important buildings of the 20th Century. While
buildings with curves were not new, going back to the Pantheon
in Rome, major buildings with many very complex curves were not
and Bilbao established Gehry as the world's leading architect
and master of high-tech, computer-aided design and pronounced
the decline of the merely rectilinear.
It is not possible to
ponder Bilbao and be merely satisfied with a bulky, boring box
Moreover, Bilbao heralded
the possible advent of a great new urban age akin to the grandeur
of the Beaux-Arts era of civic architecture around the end of
the 19th Century, an architecture in which cities and citizens
While Gehry has demonstrated
that the computer and new materials have opened the way for new
architectural wonders, it remains for patrons to commission and
pay for it and in Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim
museum, Gehry has found the ideal patron, ambitious and sophisticated
and capable of prodigious fund-raising and argument. The Gehry/Krens
proposal for a colossal new project for the East River in Lower
Manhattan is the most important proposal in New York since the
World Trade Center and one that makes a lot more sense in terms
of its potential for truly revitalizing Lower Manhattan even if
its design may need a bit more tinkering to bring it to the spectacular
level of achievement of the Bilbao project. Its basic form of
silvery ribbons "blown" together like a fantastic cloud
formation floating above large, curved esplanades is terrific,
but its tall tower still seems a rather awkward intrusion into
the form and the north and south sides of the huge project do
not yet present as poetic vistas as Gehry can probably fashion
and they are important vistas since the site will be so visibly
from up and down the FDR Drive. The project, significantly, would
certainly be the most important "modern" architecture
to "land" in New York since Frank Lloyd Wright's inverted
spiral at the Guggenheim Museum uptown more than four decades
New York City has, unfortunately,
been a backwater of modern architecture for about a decade while
Japanese, European and some American architects have been creating
new wonders in Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe for a decade or
While it is impossible
to sufficient praise a masterwork like Bilbao, this exhibition
does demonstrate that wave-like, organic forms are not always
pure delights, which is to say that some of Gehry's more recent
projects are not quite as successful as Bilbao.
Gehry is a remarkable
designer whose intellectuality and passion to ennoble his patron's
desires and needs spans a very broad aesthetic palette. His unbuilt
Familian house in Santa Monica, California, 1978, is one of the
great designs of the "Deconstructivist" movement, one
whose promise has still to be fully played out and one which owes
a great deal to Gehry's brilliant conceptualizing.
In the catalogue essay
on the project, Gehry is quoted as remarking that "buildings
under construction look nicer than buildings finished" and
the essay notes that this project "particularly captures
this quality of arrested motion." "In contrast to the
traditional structure of single-family dwellings, Gehry's design
fragmented the protective exterior shell by revealing glimpses
of the wood framed exterior beneath stucco sheathing. The house
is comprised of separate buildings, one rectangular and the other
cube-shaped. These structures are joined by a network of wooden
bridges, pavilions, and skylights intended to connect them both
physically and visually, and to allow unobstructed views of the
Santa Monica Mountains from the back of the house."
Flamboyance would arise
with his design for the Aerospace Hall, California Science Center,
which was completed in Los Angeles in 1984 and features a F-104
jet fighter plane soaring upwards on one of its sides. The catalogue
entry notes that Gehry's original design for the polygonal structure's
interior was continuous but "it was later subdivided into
smaller spaces against the architect's wishes."
In 1984, Gehry also
designed the Norton Residence in Venice, California for Bill Norton,
a screenwriter, and Lynn Norton, a painter, that is noted for
its beachfront free-standing structure that the catalogue describes
as "reminiscent of a lifeguard shack, which functions as
a secluded office."
One of Gehry's finest designs
is the Schnabel Residence in Brentwood, California, shown above,
that was finished in 1989. Here Gehry has employed his "village"
approach and created an exceeding interesting and impressive residential
The Der Neue Zollhof
office complex in Dusseldorf was completed in 1999 and Gehry decided
to do three medium-size buildings rather than one, each with related
facades of different materials. One is brick, one is plaster and
the center one is stainless-steel. The catalogue entry for this
project notes that "their geometries subtly respond to the
sculptural potential of their external finishes, brick being the
most angular of the three and stainless steel the most fluid,"
adding that "although visually distinct, the trio is unified
by a similar massing of bundled towers and highly sculptured exteriors
with pronounce fenestration." The catalogue illustrates the
computer-assisted manufacture of the facades and provides the
"The central metal-clad
tower is built of precast concrete panels molded from computer-milled
Styrofoam blanks that are eventually recycled. Computer data derived
from the design model is used to mill the full-scale Styrofoam
blocks, which are fitted with rebar and poured with concrete.
As the individually cast panels are assembled, the undulating
form o the exterior wall takes shape. While more expensive than
building rectilinear shapes using wood forms, each piece fits
exactly despite the complex surface geometry."
The catalogue also observes
that "punching holes to created recessed windows would have
composed the sculptural expression." "Instead,"
it continued, "windows were developed to move in opposition
to the perimeter plane and to induce a striking angularity that
contrasts with the largely curvilinear language of the towers.
Breaking free of the exterior plane, the complex's distinctive
windows add to the highly animated character of the buildings."
The mirror-finish of
the stainless steel central section of the riverfront project
is dazzling and would look "absolutely marvelous" in
Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan especially had it been used at
the former Alexander's and Coliseum sites! Gehry also employed
protruding windows to great effect in his Nationale-Nederlanden
project in Prague, which is notable also for its rippling wall
facades and twisted curved corner.
This year, Gehry's design
for the DG Bank Building on Pariser Platz adjacent to the Brandenburg
Gate in Berlin is nearing completion and it is perhaps the most
ungainly of the architect's designs largely because of zoning
restrictions, but it is nonetheless typically extraordinary. The
façade facing Parizer Platz is by Gehry's standards very
plain and simple although the inclined third-story windows add
considerably subtlety. The rear of the building, however, has
pronounced protruding windows like those at the Der Neue Zollhof
complex on a stepped, angled façade that is highly rhythmic/regimented,
albeit in this instance without mirror-finish stainless steel.
What distinguishes this
project is not its exterior, however, but its interiors. The bank
occupies the majority of the front section of the building and
it has an enormous skylit atrium within which is a very odd looking
and large conference hall whose form, the catalogue notes, "Gehry
retrieved serendipitously while creating the competition entry:
the horse-head form of the entry hall and gallery from his design
of the unbuilt Lewis Resident (1989-95)," adding that the
element "commands the wood-paneled atrium, capped above and
below by skylights. The element's form looks like a silvery cloth
just picked off the ground by the wind and any resemblance to
a horse's head is very hard to discern. A model of its interior,
however, is a cavernous and curvaceous brain. The roof's skylight
is mostly barrel-vaulted but at one end it dips down into the
atrium space and its curved ends form an oval opening. The floor
on which the conference center "element" rests has several
raised angled and curved skylights over the building's cafeteria
on a lower level.
Whereas most atriums
are large empty spaces, this one is not and is instead a place
that should prove to be strangely alluring, mysterious, and alive
with changing light, the lair of an alien, perhaps.
The unusually bulbous
and bumpy form contradicts its sleek cladding and Gehry would
experiment in a similar vein with the Experience Music Project,
a model of which is shown above, completed in 2000 in Seattle
adjacent to that city's famous Space Needle. "An existing
monorail that sweeps through the building to the Seattle Center
enhances the sense of movement that has long been a hallmark of
Gehry's work," the catalogue maintained. The client, it added,
had requested a "swoopy" building dedicate to the celebration
of popular music and the amorphous, sprawling forms of Gehry's
design are a far cry form I. M. Pei's Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame
in another city. "The curvaceous forms were sparked the client's
admiration for the horse-head shaped conference center at the
DG Bank Building," the catalogue essay on this project continued,
"and grew out of the architect's experiments with broken
guitar pieces." "The allusion to a shattered Fender
Stratocaster is carried through in a glass sculpture that rides
the crest of the building, suggesting the strings and frets of
a guitar neck. The colors - a riot of gold, pale blue, purple,
red and silver - are symbolic references to various songs and
events from the history of rock and roll, including [Jim] Hendrix's
song 'Purple Haze.'"
Some of the structure's
gold-colored metal shingles are coated with a beaded-glass finish.
Inside, Gehry has created
a very large hanging polished stainless-steel "heart"
that houses a "Sound Lab" and hovers over the ticket
lobby. Its shimmers wildly, but does not shake and is a truly
an magnificently mangled orb for a scepter-less high-tech titan.
The project's exterior
could possibly be mistaken, in a very quick glance on an overcast
day, for a congealed mess of different jams, but there is dazzle
and the green-glass undulating "guitar-neck" sculptures
that flow over much of the center of its roof are a grand chef's
topping to this melted overdose of confection.
For the Millennium Park
Music Pavilion and Great Lawn on a new park along Michigan Avenue
next to the Art Institute of Chicago, Gehry resorted to a more
coherent but still flamboyant design whose stainless-steel orchestral
shell conjures myriad horn bells. A huge trellis spans the great
lawn from which speakers are suspended to make music "float"
above the audience. The project was begun in 1999.
The pavilion's orchestral
shell seems to puff and billow and is very impressive because
has a rhythmic simplicity.
That same rhythmic simplicity
of billowing curtains blown gently by breezes was used by Gehry
in the Condé Nast cafeteria at 4 Times Square, which was
completed in 2000. For this project, Gehry designed tall contoured
architectural glass panels, each one different, to enclose dining
areas and yet maintain a high order of visibility. The cafeteria,
open to all employees of the company, which publishes such magazines
as Vogue and Vanity Fair, has yellow-topped tables and tan-colored
curved banquettes as well as an entryway lined on one side with
mirror-finish undulating stainless steel entry to create "fun-house
effects" for those interested in their appearance. The catalogue
notes that the tables were covered with a yellow laminate because
Gehry wanted to "keep the place from looking like a nightclub."
The catalogue's entry
on the planned Guggenheim Museum for Lower Manhattan notes that
the museum itself is raised off its platform to permit views of
the river from Wall Street and that its water garden can be transformed
into an ice rink surrounded by the sculpture garden on the project's
very extensive riverfront plazas.
In 2000, Gehry in association
with David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill accepted an
invitation to participate in a competition for a new headquarters
skyscraper for The New York Times on Eighth Avenue between 40th
and 41st Streets. The design of the relatively slender, glass-clad,
45-story tower blossomed into a flowery flourish at the top and
had a cascading base of "molten forms." The Gehry-Childs
team withdrew from the competition, the catalogue notes, "shortly
before the project was awarded to Renzo Piano in association with
Fox & Fowle.
The final design was
quite poetic and subtle and the petal-like curves at the top would
have been a fine addition to the New York skyline, although they
were less radical than some of the preliminary designs.
"Form flows from
function" with Gehry rather than just "follows"
and form certainly is "more" in his designs.
Along with Peter Eisenman,
Daniel Liebeskind and Shin Takematsu, Gehry is fashioning an architecture
that arouses awe in its users and viewers about man's potential
to shape "brave new worlds" that are mysterious and
inviting, memorable and inspirational.
One feels about Gehry
a little like Michelangelo's Pope who was constantly curious what
his great artist was up to.
One of the most fascinating
projects in this exhibition is the competition entry by Gehry
and David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for a new skyscraper
planned by The New York Times. The limited competition was won
by Norman Foster. The impressive design, shown above in near final
design while various other designs are shown in models below,
called for a tall tower whose top appears to blossom like a flower
with sinuous curves.
The exhibition is sponsored
by Enron and Hugo Boss with additional support provided by the
National Endowment for the Arts.
In a catalogue essay
entitled, "A Personal Reflection," Thomas Krens, the
director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, shown above, noted
that Gehry's "first museum retrospective was organized in
1986, when he was fifty-seven, by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis,
andit was when that exhibition came to the Whitney Museum in New
York that my ascent began into Frank's mysteriously exuberant
world of psychologially organic form rendered in steel, glass,
metal, plywood, stone, and chain link."
with Frank began with the plans for MAS MoCa (the Massachusetts
Museum of Contemporary Art), a project for the conversion of twenty-eight
nineteenth-century textile mill buildings into a museum. By some
stroke of good fortune, the precise mechanics of which happily
continue to elude me, a triumvirate of Frank, David Childs, and
Robert Venturi came together as a team and was chosen to design
the Master plan for MASS MoCA. Unhappily, the project as conceived
by this distinguished group never got off the preliminary drawing
board. The economic crisis in Massachusetts in the early 1990s
delayed the project for some five yeas, and by the time it regained
momentum the situation had shifted and frank, David and Bob were
no longer involved. He is arguably the most important architect
of our time - the Michael Jordan of bricks and mortar."
In his introductory
remarks at the exhibition's press preview, Mr. Krens said that
he did not think Mr. Gehry thinks "in the past, he thinks
in the future," adding that there is "no such thing
as an ideal solution.there are multiple solutions."
When asked what he thought
about the show, Mr. Gehry replied that "it feels terrible,
it's all my own stuff and I don't want to look at it anymore."
"We sent 20 truckloads
here was no room all over the street, that was embarrassing, littering
New York," he remarked before proceeding to launch into a
discussion of the role of the architect today that he said was
"kind of infantilized by the process of the building world
- architects are often treated like the little women, you are
just so cute and talented and we love youso we have to tech them
this process." Gehry said that the computer-aided design
that his firm has been using changes architecture and hopefully
will help architects become masterbuilders again by controlling
more of the process and being able to demonstrate that complex
work can be built. Gehry said he was "very interested in
painting because it's about surfaceyou can see it in the translation
of a painter like de Kooning.who made some bronze sculptures and
the painterly quality o his is very evident in plaster and wax
molds but a lot gets lost in the translation to bronzego to Delphi,
see the charioteersthe surface has that magic to itit can b achievable
in a hard surface materiala lot of my work is trying to do thatit's
an illusive, very illusive quest."
Mr. Gehry said that
the "bastardization" of good modern architecture by
the "speculative building industry" led to attempts
by "Post-Modern" architects to "humanize"
it but "got trashed by the lesser examples to the point where
it trivialized it" and ultimately led to a "backlash"
against "Post-Modernism" as well as a backlash against
a lot of Minimalism. He said that many artists asked him not to
design museums as an 'antiseptic white environment."
Gehry, who won the 1989
Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed what the museum has described
as "a spectacular architectural intervention in the Frank
Lloyd Wright Rotunda." "Suspended from the ribs of the
skylight are huge swaths of aluminum mesh, which drape down and
are tied back onto the lower ramps. The aluminum mesh - a kind
of refined chain link - both recalls the architect's early vocabulary
and reflects the formal direction of his current work," according
to the museum's press release about the show. At the press conference,
Gehry acknowledged that there were some problems with this installation,
but said he hoped they would be worked out shortly. In contrast
with his marvelously flashy installation for the museum's motorcycle
show (see The City Review article on the museum's recent rotunda
installations), the mesh "swaths" are more ominous than
awesome, at least on first impression. Indeed, in her catalogue
essay entitled "Sites of Passage," J. Fiona Ragheb,
the museum's associate curator of associate curator for Collections
and Exhibitions, notes that Daniel Buren's installation "Inside
(Center of Guggenheim) in the museum's 1971 Guggenheim International
Exhibition caused a considerable controversy by slicing through
the museum's rotunda from the skylight almost all the way to the
floor and causing some other participants in that show to be annoyed
that it obscured views of their works.
Another Gehry installation
is a titanium-clad canopy above the sculpture terrace off Tower
5 at the museum. The canopy extends over an outdoor café
for the exhibition and the museum's press release notes that "the
undulating forms of this structure recall those used to crate
the façade of a hotel at Marques de Riscal (1998-presnet),
a winery in Elciego, Spain, and dramatically mediate between the
robust curves of the frank Lloyd Wright building and the rectilinear
vocabulary of the Gwathmey Siegel tower."
In her catalogue essay
entitled "Architecture in Motion," Mildred Friedman
observes that "without reverting to historic innuendo, he
went on to create idiosyncratic, humane spaces filled with surprise,
nuance and power."
She begins her essay
with the following Gehry quote:
"The real world
today comes hurtling at you like a runaway truck, and either you
can freeze up and let it run you down or else you can jump to
the side, take a flying leap, clamber on board, and struggle your
way through the window and into the driver's seat, where you can
try to wrest control of the steering wheel and brakes. That's
the energy I try to harness in my work. I guess you can I'm intrigued
by the sense of movement."
In her catalogue essay
entitled "The house That Built Gehry," Beatriz Colomina
offers the following Gehry quote"
"Even though I
often put as much detail work into what I do as anyone, it always
appears casual. That's the edge I'm after. For people to see what
I want them to see, but for them not to be quite sure if it was
designed or if it just happened."
Ms. Colomina makes the
excellent observation that Gehry is not interested in theory,
but intuition. In her discussion of his original house renovation,
she argues that its unconventional use of materials created "shock"-
"the house is being tortured in public." She relates
that Gehry is sort of a street-fighter and enjoyed boxing, adding
that "The boxer exemplifies the image of the avant-garde
artist as a provocateur, brutally reconfiguring everyday life."
The renovated house, she continued, was "intended as an aggression"
and "Mor than anything else, Gehry wants us to see his house
as a sex act, a striptease."
Gehry, of course, is
not the first architect to employ curves. The three most obvious
precursors of curving architecture are Le Corbusier's 1955 chapel
Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp, France, Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal
at JFK airport in New York and Erich Mendelsohn's 1921 Einstein
Tower in Potsdam. The Ronchamp chapel, of course, is perhaps the
most important unconscious influence on Gehry's later sculptural
architecture, but its power lines in its clearly defined articulation.
Gehry's best work is not really organic in any clear-cut sense.
It has a hap-hazard sense of stable collapse, which is to say
that projects like Bilbao, and the New York project, seem to have
fallen together out of many pieces, many thoughts and come to
a pause, if not rest, but not frozen.
In his catalogue essay
entitled "Frankly Urban: Gehry from Billboards to Bilbao,"
Jean-Louis Cohen offers the following Gehry quote:
"I obey the golden
rule. I think that the big issue is to be a good neighbor. That
means that you respect what's around you and its context. It's
again the Mendelsohn lesson, that you relate to it, that you bring
something to it that wasn't there but is part of it."
of context, urban context, is important. Context should not necessarily
rule, but must be considered, respected and, most importantly,
added to. Such an approach is at odds with many civic activists
who focus on the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Syndrome to try to
thwart virtually any new development. In post-World War II America,
many urban neighborhoods came under attack from "urban renewal"
plans and grandiose visions by planners such as Robert Moses and
led to community revolts, led in large part by urbanologist Jane
Jacobs, against such intrusions, disruptions and related "monstrosities."
Needless to say, many of these civic activists overreacted but
in an age of "political correctness" were extremely
successful in squashing attempts to introduce modern, to say nothing
about experimental, design and had such groups been active earlier
none of the city's most famous skyscraper landmarks, both official
and unofficial, would have been built.
The exhibition was organized
by Mildred Friedman, guest curator, and J. Fiona Ragheb.
The softcover catalogue
is available from the museum for $45 and a hardcover edition is
distributed by Harry N. Abrams Inc., for $85.