Idea Of The Day

Is Frank Gehry Great or Just Popular?

Is the architect Frank Gehry America’s best artist? He’s revered, mainly for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; the Experience Music Project in Seattle; and the house he built for himself in California over 20 years ago. (Among the buildings he’s currently working on are the headquarters of Spanish winemaker Marqués de Riscal and a new Manhattan Guggenheim, which will be constructed in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.) And unlike many other contemporary architects, his buildings have a popular following.

Not everyone is an unreserved enthusiast for Gehry’s projects. He’s just too much of a populist, his critics say, lacking the sobriety of, say, Richard Meier or the formality of Renzo Piano. The New Republic’s Jed Perl sees in Gehry “an authentic visionary comedian. … His bursting forms, like explosions of laughter given visual shape, are the perfect image for the museum as fun house.” Imagine a good run of Saturday Night Live sketches in architectural form. For Hal Foster, some of Gehry’s structures, “for all [their] apparent futurism, … are akin to the Statue of Liberty, with a separate skin hung over a hidden armature, and with exterior surfaces that rarely match up with interior spaces. … [Others] resemble the baubles set on corporate plazas in the 1960s and 1970s blown up to architectural scale, and some look as though they could be broken into with a [can]-opener.” The Guggenheim, Bilbao, however, looks as if the can-opener has already broken in, though no one I know has found the Statue of Liberty hidden inside.

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