The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Frank Gehry retrospective is a fine balance between fantasy and reality, stated nowhere but implied everywhere. Opening September 13th, the exhibit of Frank Gehry’s life work will be at LACMA through March 20th, 2016. In a show with the potential to fold under its own weight given the sheer scale and scope of Gehry’s oeuvre, the gallery manages to maintain a childlike wonder about it. These pieces are extreme fantasies that we might play out in our minds, but only Gehry can bring to life.The models and mock-ups, after examining three or four, begin to feel familiar in their own right and we begin to take them on their own terms. By the fifth and sixth, they become doll houses, each room empty and open for possibility.The models are beyond what we can fathom; twisted structures that defy gravity and flaunt defiance in the face of convention. What begins as a grounded experience in what we think we know about Gehry’s work suddenly grows surreal and fantastic.
Stranger still: these buildings went beyond the drafts and plans. These buildings exist.
This is the magic of the Gehry show. Whether museum, collegiate campus, or Venice Beach townhouse — the twisted, impossible, alien mockup on the gallery floor comes to life in photograph, furnished with sitting rooms and closets filled with clothes and windowsills lined with plants — the details of a life. Seeing the images slide past each other along the gallery walls is to see beyond the art and into the purpose. To see that the living rooms inside Gehry’s houses are not dissimilar to our own. To see that the fantasy is possible.
We bring our previous experience into the room with us. Those of us who have stood before Disney Hall and felt the hairs on the back of our neck rise as our eyes dance across the undulations and reflections understand the power of the styrofoam mock-up on the gallery floor.Gehry stressed before the event that what all creators must do is take an object and imbue it with feeling, make the viewer really feel something when they look at the final product.
“Those of us who make things and create things with inert materials, our job is to create feelings that we can transfer to people.”
The exhibit gives the viewer the opportunity to peek into Gehry’s mind and view the process of turning the static and lifeless into the wonderful.The show stresses Gehry’s relationship to urban life and his understanding of how cities function, adding a familiar dimension to his Los Angeles designs. Each piece is saturated with the character of its host city, lending itself to the existing mythologies of the landscape. There’s a certain pride in seeing the wacky designs for Los Angeles homes, knowing that there is no other city in which Gehry could have put together such a building. It lends itself to an unexpected feeling of the organic, that Disney Hall looks the way it does because of its context and that it could exist nowhere else. In many ways, Gehry makes it seem like these buildings bloom out of the ground, fully-formed and native to the city.
Perhaps this implied magic isn’t so new to LACMA’s campus after all. Just crossing through the galleries toward the end, visitors get a glimpse of Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” through the windows. Another impossible design that somehow came the fruition; another impossible design that is simply cool. Inspiring that childlike wonder at the grandeur of the world and the possibilities of nature. Inside the gallery, the possibilities of mankind.
At the end of the day, this exhibit isn’t about architecture or design or urbanity. It’s about wonder.