The immaculate white spaces of Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery are designed by architectural titan, Richard Meier. Until 1 May they house an exhibition consisting of a single, baroque work by another titan of architecture, Frank Gehry.
The object is a monumental sculpture resembling a horse’s head. The horse shape, achieved by the computer design process that Gehry has used in his recent buildings, is not making its first appearance in Gehry’s work. It already exists as a form suspended in the atrium of the architect’s DG Bank on the Pariserplatz in Berlin (see p.22). Constructed by a crew that works regularly with Gehry, the huge piece is formed with shaped wood ribs covered with thin strips of maple, over which are placed some 16,000 pounds of overlapping shaped sheets of lead. Called “A study,” it is approximately twenty feet high, twenty-five feet wide, and forty feet long. It is large enough for a person to enter and walk through. The Gagosian Gallery is promoting the object as a fusion of sculpture and architecture.
Gehry’s furniture and architectural models have been shown in museums for years and, besides Gagosian, PaceWildenstein was also a suitor. “They see my work as sculpture, for some reason”, says Frank Gehry, “But I resisted it. It means crossing a line where all of a sudden I’m competing with great sculptors, and I suppose I’m not emotionally ready to do that. So I said jokingly to Gagosian that I would do a black snake in Richard Meier’s white building, because I figured Richard thinks I’m a black snake anyway. I thought it would be funny and I thought Richard would find it funny.”
When Gagosian approached Gehry a year ago, the architect expected that it would take several years to develop the snake motif: “It’s bordering on kitsch,” he said. The idea for the horse’s head came after Gagosian pressed Gehry for an object that could be shown in the gallery by 18 March, at an opening that would coincide with the Academy Awards, a time when the leaders of the entertainment business converge on Los Angeles. The booming entertainment industry is a concentration of wealth that art dealers serving Los Angeles are trying to tap more deeply. According to Robert Shapazian, director of the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, the object is for sale as a unique work, not part of an edition, and the price would be about $1 million, or about 1% of the cost of the Guggenheim Bilbao—low enough to attract collectors who have shied away from commissioning Gehry to do a real building. A buyer for the work has yet to appear, said Mr Shapazian, although sceptics suggest that the gallery would not have gone to the expense of having the horse assembled in the Beverly Hills space without a collector already committed to purchasing it.
Plans are now underway for the construction and exhibition of the Gehry snake sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Could the horse and snake shapes be replacing the dominant fish and ship motifs in Gehry’s buildings to date?
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'If you can’t afford a Gehry building try this $1 million sculpture'