Architect Frank Gehry‘s colliding forms and billowing curves have both made him a star and triggered a backlash, writes Eric Wills.
Last October, when a journalist at a news conference in Spain asked Frank Gehry whether his buildings were more about spectacle than function, the jet-lagged architect angrily responded by gesturing with his middle finger.
Righteous snub or insolent posturing? That depends on whether you consider Gehry, now 86 years old, to be one of our greatest living artists or a purveyor of self-indulgent sculptural excess.
It was in Spain, of course, that Gehry unveiled his Bilbao Guggenheim in 1997 to white-hot acclaim. (“I’ve been geniused to death,” the architect once lamented.) But as cities around the world have sought their own Bilbao effect – 15 years later, the museum was still attracting a million visitors a year – the resulting wave of bespoke architecture has inspired a backlash. Critics have assailed Gehry and his fellow “starchitects” for producing preening buildings that exhibit little regard for their context and the unfortunate souls who have to use them.
Such criticism may be inevitable when your ambitions are as significant as Gehry’s. Paul Goldberger, in his new biography of the architect, defines the fundamental questions that have driven Gehry’s career as: “How much should architecture be considered a humane pursuit, an artistic enterprise, a cultural event, as opposed to a practical work of construction? And even when architecture is pursued with the highest aims, how much impact can it have?” […]