Revolutionary architect Frank Gehry, 86, has transformed architecture’s aesthetics as well as its social and his iconic buildings have transformed cities like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Nationale-Nederlanden Building in Prague. The Frank Gehry approach to urban architecture – and its evolution with time and technology – fascinate in a major retrospective of his work over the last 50-plus years at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA) that shows how his ideas and buildings flow and have changed over time. The exhibit opens Sunday, Sep. 13, 2015.
The Canadian-born, Los Angeles–based architect has been instrumental in creating buildings that are a means of expression, using a process that helped methods of design and architectural technology change along with the materials used. He admitted at the press preview for the LACMA show that he did not like how cities throughout the world have built glass office buildings that all look alike. Gehry charmingly admitted that he recently gave “a guy the middle finger salute when he mentioned my building are showy.”
The exhibition itself was organized by the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris tied with opening last fall of Gehry’s expressive new masterpiece, the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne section of the city. The museum and its glass design resemble sails floating in the park area. As LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan put it, “I have never seen anything so translucent.”
It is only natural that the Centre Pompidou exhibition eventually moved to LACMA, where Gehry himself has designed 11 exhibitions over the past 50 years. The exhibit features more than 60 projects, shown through 66 models and 200 sketches. The LACMA showing also includes buildings currently being designed or constructed including Facebook’s new campus, a renovation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a development on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood that was just unveiled this week.
The exhibit also shows sketches and models of buildings never constructed. Gehry said that he did not want to look back at some. “It would have been painful to go through because there are a lot of buildings that I really loved that never got built,” he admitted.
The Gehry retrospective at LACMA traces the arc of Gehry’s career from the early 1960s to the present. It shows how the ideas flow into buildings. The free-form sketches, whose emotive, continuous line captures the energy of the building as it distinguishes forms and spaces, are an important part of their design process. “Years ago, I established a process for myself rooted in client, program, context, and construction. These foundations have remained the same, and I hope that the show demonstrates that being steadfast with these basics has afforded me freedom elsewhere,” Gehry said.
The exhibit is divided along 6 thematic eras that reflect his changing vision with the last room showing 14 projects currently in progress in his studio.
- De-composition | Segmentation (1965–1980): These early commissions for private houses and artists’ studios allowed him to experiment and develop an architectural style that showed a strong relationship between a building and its environment.
- Composition | Assemblage (1980–1990): Influenced by architect Philip Johnson’s concept of a “one-room building,” Gehry arranged buildings with equal focus on in-between spaces, such as the campus for the ChiatDay advertising agency.
- Interaction | Fusion (1990–2000): Gehry began experimenting with CATIA (Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application), automobile and aeronautics software he had adapted for his use. This created an architecture of continuity, where walls and roofs became an element that fused the design and structure together. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is an example of this conceptual shift as is the Nationale-Nederlanden Building with its dancing toward nicknamed “Fred and Ginger.”
- Conflict | Tension (1990–2000): Gehry’s focus on spaces between led to a fascination with tension and attraction. This translated into buildings with contradictions, abrupt changes, and conflicts that reflect city life. Examples are the Ray and Maria Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
- Flux | Continuity (2000–2010): The architect then began exploring metallic envelopes that overlay and redefine the facade. Examples include the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park and the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in New York.
- Unity | Singularity (2000–2015): He also simplified more chaotic forms for unified, singular buildings like the Üstra Office Building in Germany, which is shaped like a rhomboid with a slight twist, and the billowing glass sails that cover and unify the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Gehry hopes that his buildings transmit feeling to those who look at them. He talked about looking at ancient Greek works that “transmit feeling through bronze, through insert materials. Our job is to create feeling that transfer to people,” he noted, mentioning a current exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum across town and particularly a statue of a defeated boxer. “You can see from his face that he’s puzzled about what happened in the fight, and that was 300 B.C. but the emotion still manages to get through.”
Frank Gehry admitted at the preview of the LACMA retrospective that shows how his ideas and buildings flow that, “Keeping this process going for nearly 60 years has been a feat. I want to thank everyone who has been down the rabbit hole with me.”
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Preview of exhibit on Sep. 9, 2015
LACMA: Frank Gehry
Architectural Digest: Architect Frank Gehry Gets A Major Retrospective At LACMA
Vanity Fair: Gehry’s Paris Coup
Photo of design model for Fondation Louis Vuitton (top) and the Nationale-Nederlanden Building courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP.
Photo of Nationale-Nederlanden Building model by Dyanne Weiss