‘Starchitect’ speaks at Disney Concert Hall

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Author: Malcolm MacLeod

 

An older man wearing thin glasses and a postboy cap admires a tall paper structure with billowing folds like sails in the wind. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) patron Donald Liegler is a longtime fan of Frank Gehry, the legendary architect whose six decade-long career is celebrated in an ongoing retrospective at the museum. In conjunction with the exhibit, LACMA hosted a talk Feb 4. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of many iconic buildings designed by Gehry.

“I’ve always been struck by his inventiveness and willingness to break the rules,” Liegler said.

The flowing architectural sculpture that introduces patrons to the Frank Gehry exhibition represents the architect’s career-long endeavor to couple beauty and functionality while growing and re-working his aesthetic.

The architect is intimately tied to the city of Los Angeles, as evidenced by a heartfelt letter addressed to the city at the exhibit’s entrance.

“We’ve been good friends and are stronger for it,” Gehry said in the letter. “Let’s continue taking care of each other.”

The architect moved to Los Angeles in 1947 with his family and earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from University of Southern California in 1954. The Binoculars building, the Loyola Law School and the Gehry residence, a simple but innovative home that launched the architect’s career, are among his many contributions to the city.

Gehry’s creative process is described as unique in the world of architecture, evidenced through his gestural line drawings and sculptural models at LACMA. Gehry makes his models tactile and textural with cardboard, corrugated metal, plastic, paper and wood.

A video of the architect plays on a loop at the exhibition. In the video, Gehry relates how, during his days as a student, he got along better with art students than his peers in the architecture program. His connection to the art world is apparent to this day. The gestural, curving sketches and collage-like models on display at the museum are works of artistic beauty and genius.

Gehry was joined on the stage by president of the L.A. Philharmonic Deborah Borda and Esa-Pekka Salonen, principal conductor at the time of the hall’s construction. The two spoke about their experiences collaborating with Gehry to create the concert hall. Gehry recalled the moment music first played in Walt Disney Concert hall.

A lone violinist, wearing a hardhat in the unfinished hall, arrived to play for the trio and test the acoustics. They sat together, waiting for the moment the musician would break the silence and determine the effectiveness of Gehry’s design.

“We were all holding hands up there,” Ghery said.

Salonen was involved in Gehry’s creative process. He too felt the pressure of the moment before the violinist touched bow to string.

“I’ve never been more nervous in my life,” Salonen said.

Salonen, a master of classical music, considered the similarities between his own artwork and Gehry’s.

“I thought a lot about this today before I arrived,” Salonen said. “The translation between space and music. Architecture is frozen music.”

Gehry’s free-flowing, emotional approach to architecture fascinates the conductor. The two men share a clear artistic and professional connection that manifests itself in the beauty of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

He describes each building as a miniature city, based around the “conversations between a building and its surroundings.”

Ghery’s definition of “surroundings” exceed the spaces between buildings to include those between the people who interact with it and the encompassing neighborhood. Ghery explained how functionality trumps aesthetics in his list of priorities.

“When building a music hall, the music must come first,” Gehry said.

Gehry’s architecture is more than functional; it is thought-provoking and aesthetically evasive.

Soft waves, abrupt angles, pyramidal structures and classical columns all have a place in Gehry’s ouveure, which reveal a fascination with “finding harmonies in discord,” as described on a placard at the museum.

To gaze into the architectural models and imagine yourself as one of the miniature tin-figures populating the architect’s microcosmic worlds is a continuously engaging experience.

Borda expressed her admiration and respect for Gehry’s work at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“It is monumental, but completely humane,” Borda said.

Gehry is not only humane, but humble. Sitting on the stage in the concert hall made in his vision, he still notices little details he might change. In the video at LACMA, he describes his creative process as “seeking impossible perfection,” but displays humility, saying, “you realize as you mature, you ain’t gonna get there.”

Ultimately, the exhibit provides an intriguing look into the mind of a master of his craft, whose influence has literally shaped the city of Los Angeles.

The Gehry retrospective will be open at LACMA until March 20.

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