About 40 years ago, Frank Gehry traveled to Greece with artist Ed Moses. Eventually, the friends tired of each other’s company but thankfully made it to Delphi where Gehry recalls seeing the ancient bronze statue of a stoic young Charioteer in a moment of victory.
“I burst into tears,” Gehry said. “To transmit that feeling through bronze, through inert materials, through time — that it would have that effect, I realized — that’s the mandate. Those of us who make things and create things with inert materials, our job is to create feelings that we can transfer to people.”
Those “things” created by Gehry, a master of expression, are now on display at the new “Frank Gehry” exhibit, on view through March 20 at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In fact, who hasn’t been moved by the dynamic Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles? Yup, that was Gehry and the downtown venue is one of many masterpieces featured in the major retrospective, which traces the thinking that went into the revolutionary ’s work, from the early 1960s to present day.
The show comes as L.A. institutions roll out the red carpet and celebrate the design icon, including the third annual J. Paul Getty Medal on Sept. 28 and the Henry Award at the Museum of California Design’s 12th annual Award Benefit and Auction on Oct. 25.
Organized by the , Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, “Frank Gehry” is organized in six chronological themes that shed light on the evolution of his architectural process. Concert halls, company headquarters, residential buildings, museum additions and public monuments are brought to life through more than 200 free-form sketches (some done on yellow lined paper), 66 models and a series of architectural slide shows. A screening of the Sydney Pollack film “Sketches of Frank Gehry” and an intimate video interview by curators Frederic Migayrou and Aurelien Lemonier prepared for Paris round out the gallery offerings.
“Walking through the exhibition, it is impossible not to be awed by the sheer inventiveness of Gehry’s thinking and his ability to translate what he imagines into beautiful and intelligent architectural forms and public spaces,” said Stephanie Barron, the curator who adapted the exhibition for LACMA. “By embracing new technologies and materials, these buildings change how we think about architecture. At 86, Frank Gehry is at the top of his game.”
Gehry’s impact on L.A.
Gehry moved from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1947. After graduating from USC with a degree in architecture in the mid-’50s and studying city planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, he established his Santa Monica office in 1962.
L.A. architectural creativity was under the radar in those days.
“You didn’t have to prove anything to anybody; you could just be yourself,” said Gehry, who was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989. “It wasn’t the wild, woolly West that the New Yorkers thought it was. The Asian influences in L.A. were very strong.”
He adds, “For me, it led me to study Japanese literature, Japanese art; I even played in the orchestra at UCLA. You know, where the music goes (he makes a whining sound) and there’s a clink-clink? I was the clink-clink.”
Inside, visitors can see his influences take shape.
Among earlier projects featured in the exhibition is Gehry’s home in Santa Monica.
The two-story 1930s bungalow’s “quintessential suburban-ness” inspired the architect to envelope the existing structure using cheap materials in new ways — corrugated metal adorns the facade, galvanized chain-link fencing delineates the terraces and rough plywood is used throughout.
As his reputation grew, his buildings became more complex and dynamic thanks to his frustration with two-dimensional construction. Visitors see this shift in his drawings, which open with straight lines and then burst with new shapes he could now create thanks to a software intended for the aeronautics and automotive industries.
Gehry worked with Dassault Systemes in the late 1980s to adapt CATIA (Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application) to his needs. He has applied it to the fish sculpture for the Olympic Village in Barcelona, Nationale-Nederlanden Building and on the unrealized Lewis Residence project, as well as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Disney Hall and the recently completed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg director, attended the opening of the new French contemporary art museum.
“It’s sailing through the park,” he said. “Winds billowing into the walls of the museum; you’ve never seen anything so translucent and in movement.
“You’re working like a young artist with new ideas all the time,” he said, this time speaking directly to Gehry during a recent media preview event at LACMA.
During the event, Gehry addressed his involvement in the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River’s 51-mile stretch from the San Fernando Valley to the ocean in Long Beach.
Reclaiming the water that flows to the Pacific has the potential to generate revenue for development projects along the river that would be important to the city, such as Gehry’s suggestion of transforming the railroad tracks alongside the river into a park connecting Boyle Heights to L.A.
“L.A.’s city center would become the center of a bigger circle instead of a one-sided kind of city,” Gehry said. “It took 50 years for Chicago to cover the tracks, but man, what a difference it’s made; and we should learn from that.”
Of course, L.A. isn’t the only city with jurisdiction over the river.
Gehry said he would be rolling out a plan that considers the river in its urban context and space like he does his buildings.
In one of the last rooms of the exhibition is a model of West Hollywood where a mixed-use development at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards stands out from the featureless structures.
There are models of Facebook’s new West Campus Building in Menlo Park, with its green roof and the snazzy new Jazz Bakery in Culver City with a large glass facade that opens to the lobby space along Culver Boulevard.
“They were taken directly from the studio,” Barron said. “But I bet if I go to the studio this week there’s probably a whole lot more on the floor.”
If you go...
When: Exhibit opens at 10 a.m. Sept. 13.
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
Tickets: $25, which includes admission to all LACMA galleries on the same day. Free to children ages 17 and younger and members.
Information: 323-857-6000, www.lacma.org
Gehry and Art: Irving Lanvin and Frank Gehry in Conversation
What: The first of a three-part series of presentations that address Gehry’s central areas of interest — art, science and music.
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 27.
Where: Bing Theater at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
Admission: Free, but tickets are required.
Information: 323-857-6000, lacma.org
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