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Frank Gehry Architect

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Fifth Avenue & 88th Street

May 18 - August 26, 2001

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Bilbao, Spain

October 29, 2001 - February 3, 2002

Frank O. Gehry

Frank O. Gehry

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, or media.

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 earlier models.

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."

Model of unbuilt Familian Residence in Santa Monica, California, 1978

Model of Gehry's unbuilt design for the Familian Residence in Santa Monica, California, 1978

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.

Model of Winton Guest House

Model of Winton Guest House designed by Gehry in Wayzata, Minnesota

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.

Model of Chiat/Day Building

Model of Chiat/Day Building in Venice, California

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 2000.

Model of Frederick R. Weisman Museum

Model of Frederick R. Weisman Museum in Minneapolis

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 structure.

Aluminum mesh sails hang in rotunda above Gehry at press conference

Gehry addressing press conference at the museum with bottom of aluminum mesh sails showing above him

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.

Metal mesh sails in rotunda

Mesh sails installation by Gehry in museum's rotunda

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.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Guggenehim Museum Bilbao viewed from nearby street

It is not possible to ponder Bilbao and be merely satisfied with a bulky, boring box anymore.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao seen from across river

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao wraps around bridge

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 take pride.

Model of proposed Guggenheim Museum New York along East River

Model of proposed Guggenheim Museum along East River at Wall Street

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 ago.

Model of proposed waterfront Guggenheim Museum New York

Model of proposed Guggenheim Museum along East River showing tower and grand waterfront plazas

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 so.

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."

Schabel resident in Brentwood, California

Schnabel Residence, Brentwood, California, 1986-9

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 complex.

Model of office complex in Dusseldorf

Model of Der Neue Zollhof office complex in Dusseldorf

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 following commentary:

Model of Dusseldorf office complex

A different model of Der Neue Zollhof office complex in Dusseldorf

"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.

Model of DG Bank Building in Berlin

Model of DG Bank Building on Pariser Platz in Berlin is cutaway to show interior conference room and skylights

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.

Model of Experience Music Project in Seattle

Model of Experience Music Project in Seattle designed by Frank Gehry

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.

Model of Millennium Park Music Pavilion in Chicago

Model of Millennium Park Music Pavilion and Great Lawn in Chicago

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.

Large model of proposed New York Times tower

Large model of proposed tower for The New York Times on Eighth Avenue

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.

Various models of designs for New York Times tower

Various models of Gehry/Childs design for proposed New York Times tower

The exhibition is sponsored by Enron and Hugo Boss with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thomas Krens

Thomas Krens, the director of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, introducing Gehry at press conference

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."

"My friendship 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."

Frank Gehry at press conference

Frank Gehry explaining rotunda sails at the museum

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."

Frank Gehry at news conference

Frank Gehry

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."

Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry

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."

Gehry's interpretation 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.

See The City Review article on alternations and installations to the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York


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