Travels through the Gehry’s Land, part one
I probably kept silent for more than a year not for being, God forbid, short in subjects, as some people whom I know who can never get out of the disquieting news, boring job stories, kids’ achievements or misconduct, planetary deterioration or some basic health worries. Things are fine with me man (excuse me! the origin of angels is so controversial) grace to you, money is rare but the moral is high. To be sincere and straight forward I think that it was my natural laziness that took over. I dare to say that you cannot imagine what torturous efforts I have to make in order to write to you something that could be interesting, funny and carrying a wistful hidden message that only you can understand. Not that you need it, but speaking to you is like talking to myself, maybe something will stick. Knowing how busy you are to protect me of the endless perils in which I got entangled and even to draw me out the pits I slide in, look at the state of my ears, I will get straight to the point. I hate FRANK GEHRY.
I believe that I met Frank Gehry before I knew who he was while traveling with Chantal to Strasbourg to see a centenary who was maybe a companion of her mother in a concentration camp. I forgot which. No, neither one was Jewish they were only freedom fighters. That occurred with more women than one can believe. Me, I had a date with the cathedral, (now she pretends that she came for the cathedral too) what I can do? I indulge myself in Gothic grandiloquence any time that I have an occasion. On the road, near a labored camp, we met a pheasant inebriated of its own beauty. You know its gaudy display of strident colors, silky feathers, undignified throat calls and emphatic walk. The resemblance of the preposterous fowl with the famous architect is striking. So, the encounter with the chic gallinacean was foreboding much of the things to come. Obviously, they are both, the pheasant fowl and the puny architect involved into expansion, one of shinning colors and inflated volume, the other of inflated volumes and shining surfaces. But I am getting astray.
On the way we went into an insignificant town, maybe was called Weil am Rein, to visit the VITRA MUSEUM, at that time one of the rare museums of design in the world. The visit was short, at dusk, after kilometers of driving and against a great appetite, which hurt the cerebral pretentions of leadership, but still long enough to realize that I have seen something of ANOTHER KIND. That architectural extravaganza was made out of sharp angles, sensuous curves, and particularly of a weird articulation of volumes. It, the museum, was offering a smart selection of architect conceived chairs. That kind of chair that it is good to have it the living room with a certificate of authentication, good to speak over but not to sit upon. If somebody attempts to sit on it you punch him nicely off. The construction, to come back to it, was challenging any building, geometric or optic rules at work since our
hairy Paleolithic ancestor began to raise half buried, roof thatched or even earth capped (Bio to boot) oval enceintes. Please consider one against the other. It is madness confronted to order. You imagine spring time somewhere in Russia. They were prehistoric people living there 60.000 years ago. Some are still alive. With your mind eyes you can see the gracious immaculate daisies and the fiery red poppies, I hope that they were blossoming together, competing for the QUEENDOM of the SPRING on this rich in chernozem roof. Incidentally that makes me think that women are much alike flowers, at least some of them. Nothing similar can be said about men, let’s face it. While I was reflecting to this regrettable antithesis I had a stroke of genius, better that than a simple stroke, and understood that the hyper creative dwarf (FG) took his inspiration from an innocent cube game I was practicing with glee in my infancy.
I recognize that during those fairly militaristic times (a fine quality global war was going on, now we are into regional homemade massacres or cyclic punishing raids) one could excel only in martial architecture: castles, fortresses, bunkers, walls if you like. Gehry by the prolific use of curves, eye catching nautilus like spiraled staircases, spatial askew protruding stacked cubes, light cannons, forget that, circular light wells, smooth materials and some petty modern abstract serialities succeeded to shape (do you sensate the subtle sequence of sibilants in my sentence?) a formula and a fad that he outrageously and paranoically expanded, exported, peddled, disseminated
to four azimuths. That is the way of art and life nowadays. Signature is the name of the game. And before I am going father I suggest that he did a shameful use, conceptual I mean, (no credits whatsoever) of the nonsense constructs developed by Lewis Carrol in his immortal creation of a world seemingly similar to ours and essentially different.
A couple of years later I poured some water in my wine. By the way of chords and love, you can call it the guitar lane, I fell progressively under the spell of J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendricks, Duane Allman, Kurt Cobain, Eddie van Halen and many other strings pinchers of any style and persuasion. They were on the jazz, rock and folk edge and somewhere else, probably within the pop realm. Then I got the wind if I may say of Frank Gehry superb FOLLY called Music Experience Project he built in Seattle basically to the honor and glory of guitar players. The trains of images I run into were insanely exciting. The constructed contraption was so far away of any other famous buildings I knew of and also of the experimental gadget of Weil am Rein, the first deconstructivist (I will come back to that) brew I had to assume, that I decided to go to Seattle in person and check it out. When Elad my son, who just finish his participation in an Albuquerque congress of quantum physics or computer sciences or something similar proposed me to slice the American pie from east to west mostly on the famous 66 road I got quickly aboard with the only request that we will finish our triumphal gallop, four states to cross, in Seattle. It was a dream ride with some littles nightmares here and there which brought us from Taos in the Pueblo Indians reservation to Santa Fe, Carson National Park, the Mesa Verde, the Petrified Forest, the Hopi Indian reservation (very fat people, native obesity what?), the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas (the mass sin industry) and finally through the enormously romantic Death Valley, to the longest city of the world Los Angeles (71 Km) with its nearby make believe factory, read Hollywood. We were human after all and the Seattle project was indefinitely postponed. But that was without to count with the obstinate creative mischievous dwarf. He left his shining mark on Los Angeles too. Architects can be such a pest…The worst was Zaha Hadid who designed another sort of Vitra somewhere, all angles and spikes….enormously aggressive wench, Shakespeare was calling the kind shrew! At least Gehry likes curves, so do I. Concomitantly, we, Elad and I, were both weary (each new project at that state of exhaustion was considered unfriendly) and nevertheless a little bit thrilled to hear that he left an egg in that megalopolis too: THE DISNEY MUSIC HALL. Some scorned it as The Mighty Music House but that didn’t deter us. We decided to give to it a quick try. You can see by yourself without being an expert. I am not either. It was awesome.
The science fiction lovers should adore it, a real spatial battle ship. You get a geometric catharsis: reversed pyramids, sharp edges, giant cylinders, bent walls, plenty of truncated cones, some superposed, it reminds me the cooling towers of the Haifa’s refinery and the sailing ship of the Flying Dutchman, stern on top of the prow, ready to float like a new Arch. Cezanne’ fixation, artistic expression as a combination of cylinders, cubes and spheres, would made him cry of emotion, should he be alive, to see this product notwithstanding the plutocratic reduction of colors to a single sterile, technologically splendid, silver hue. We, Elad and I crawled inside; Gehry likes somehow anonymous entrances, a little anxious like bees going into an alien beehive. We were quickly expelled from a curiously minuscule foyer, in my eyes an extremely important space where the cultivate upper class can and should mix, hook or socialize. We left without to get into the Holy of the Holies where some divine, I suppose, harmonies flew nonetheless the snores of vicious veteran boars who could very well sleep at home. What can I say? I liked the pharaonic contraption so much at home between Las Vegas and Hollywood. Let’s not wail on Weil am Rein, it was only a mental exercise. It seems that the monumental has an aesthetic value of its own at least Baudelaire was thinking so while depicting enthusiastically a sexual intercourse he could have with a giant woman of the size of the Colossus of Rhodes. And Baudelaire was a mighty art critic you can take my word for granted. Of Deconstructivism I will speak later, but I cannot go further without to say that the Walt Disney Concert Hall, that is the official name, it is its iconic image. If you like and understand it, you understood everything which is not the case with me because years after my Gehry’s hunt (you can add Liebkind to the cart) I still wonder if the style is not more concerned with the shell than with the yolk, if it leads or not to that precarious balance between in and out, the hallmark of a true work of art.
Years later my friend Albert, a distinguish urbanist and sharp writer on architectural endeavors, knowing that I am after Gehry to core advised me to go to see the FRENCH CINÉMATHÈQUE located in the charming Itzhak Rabin park once bearing the more vernacular name of Park of Bercy. By the way nothing is raising more the quota of an artist or a political man than untimely death if possible violent. Should I have a gallery with a big stable….but let’s not fantasticate…However, said Albert, this building is and isn’t Gehry, what quite right. However the reason to this relative shortcoming was neither the fairly arthritic native construction regulations, nor the use by the expensive maker of a material he didn’t fancy too much, a kind of local buff mat sandstone. Gehry likes to shine…who doesn’t? I went to see the contraption again and I found that notwithstanding having all or quite all the elements of Gehry’s language it looked undistinguished which is worse
than bad. The façade has more glass surface and height, than often but was still not inviting; the north-western wall was flatter than an anorexic lady’ bosom and also punctured with the repetitive openings of an apartment building, the famous HLM, do people sleep there?; the trees decorating the awkward Gehry’ entrance hall seemed mold made and mold eaten and the lanes leading to the cashiers recalled those of the immigration controls of many of the world’s airports. The cascade hall does not look really bad, excellent Danarel, a little in an extra bent mood like the descents in a water play resort, if you know what I mean but the poor olive tree seems more sterile than the castrated heroes of Saman Rushdie’s Midnight Children! It was time for a heroic decision and in a less than one year or two I landed in Seattle, very near to the Seattle Center pleased to perceive the army of picturesque homeless crowd reminding me of my beloved San Francisco. I finally caught the snark by tail!
The EXPERIENCE MUSIC PROJECT could be, I am not sure it is, the most extraordinary architectural achievement of all times, let’s say modern times, a kind of enthralling atrocity oscillating between aesthetic apotheosis and repellent thunderous belch. And when I say oscillating it is only by excess of politeness. Like entangled photons in quantum physics, one of the most bizarre hypostasis of matter, the EMP could, it is eventually, the one and the other, the best and the worst, at the same time. Should I need to report gun at head free of often inutile metaphors or qualifications (I cannot) what really the contraption is I will say that is a polyvalent space with unequal conceived and emphasized parts. In bulk they serve as giant performance gothic psychedelic hall -the Sky Church, cultural museum of the post war guitar music drive, a puny museum of science fiction and a peoples’ participation (sharing is the folly of our time!) center consisting of a complex set of studios where the visitors can perform and record, visually or soundly or both, and especially make a fool of themselves. You have a fine sample here! Ralph Bakshi the creator of Fritz de Cat would adore the stance.
Did I forget something? There are some works of art here and there, a lot of memorabilia, but the crucial notes are given by the GUITAR TOTEM, the SKY CHURCH performance hall, the penetrating monorail and especially the building itself. I will not deal with it. And I forgot the The Museum of Science Fiction one of its sections which is a perfect flop. Who cares? It was Paul Allen’s, the Microsoft co-founder, crazy horse and the reason for which he footed the bill for the entire EMP build. What can I say? EMP is a unique occurrence being simultaneously a HAPPENING and a CONSTRUCT in which one can get inside, have a real trip and leave, eventually unharmed.
After a while it occurred to me that like the Nazca desert drawings this building can be seen completely only by the Gods and that the above is not less designed, modelled and sensuously important than the sides or the façade. It has not back. Probably, in despair, I boarded a drone to get a 3D roof photo lavishly displayed on the previous page. It happened, to be sincere, years ago, my souvenirs are fairly mixed and it is very possible that I rented (?) the image from some internet shop. You are kindly asked to note the penetration of the monorail in the building at the left side of the photo. For more certitude I marked it with a M. I do not know if the name given to it is justifiable because in reality it runs on two rails, but it is not the only inexplicable thing around. By the way the point marked with a H is a worker or walker or something similar, just for comparison. Acceptable or not, the passage of this train, because that it is what it is across, a museum or cultural center or both raised enormous controversy not especially because the incongruity of the insertion but because the amount of implicit and explicit eroticism invested in the execution. I am afraid that many discrete and sensible people got irreparably offended but I do not feel personally concerned. What I can say? Luxury was always a cardinal human concern.
People reacted as expected very differently to the birth of such a mutant. Locals didn’t like it too much. We are still with the outer shell. Forbes gave to it a not very enviable spot among the ten ugliest buildings ever. A distinguished critic compared it to an aquatic animal who crawled out of the ocean and died of boredom, some more concise tagged it “a blob” and a particularly nasty one called it “a hemorrhoid.” What I can do? The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The maker himself pretended that he was inspired by a dump of smashed guitars. You cannot trust him either. I do not like him but I will try not to be biased. I feel often, but not all the time, that the shell is a master piece. First, it is an innovative departure from the general creative dwarf’s abstract and often pompous geometric style. Instead of sterile mathematical pristine forms the BIOFORM is here ruling supreme I believe to have recognized a hand, a tree stump, a mushroom, an earth worm or something else. It is more than a set of bioforms, it is visceral. The fusion between the parts is smoothly handled into an organic whole and the use of the body car paint or airplane, who knows, with all the Allen money, brings the monster back into the realm of abstract art. So visitors, for the same fee, are confronted with a rare fact of architecture which is concomitantly a monumental chromatic sculpture and a polyvalent cultural center. Forget the name. It is a lot. Let’s step inside and let’s go to the core, to the heart to the essential, to the super drive. You know the super drive is a utopian engine which makes the space ships jump across the cosmos quicker than the light speed…in the science fiction stories. Here at EMP they called this this super drive, which is a hall by the way, the SKY CHURCH. It is a three stores high immense space, which has the form of a truncated cone vertically sectioned The enlightening is eerie, psychedelic and sophistically synchronized, according to the performance; a school of probably yellow umbrellas, they change their color continuously, product of a virtual dialogue between Savator Dali and Timoty Leary hang from the blue ceiling and the flat western wall is plated with one of the largest LED screens. in the world. Movies are projected all over on this mammoth surface Sometimes virtual panels open on the screen and smart guys explain to you during the time the movie is running how Columbus made an egg standstill.
The music performances are more straight-forward, performers and public are well acquainted and verbal exchange is banned except if some of the musicians starts suddenly to sing. 800 hundred people can be crammed together in this launch missile facility; there are not chairs, if they are tightly packed. The rock catharsis like the religious one needs physical togetherness and corporeal contiguity The educated, full of praise article “Frank Gehry Rock Temple” published in the prestigious Architecture Week from July 2000 by Clair Enlow quite convinced me that mischievous dwarf can have some good sides even if Rock so to speak was very thin and rare in the Sky Church. I am sensible to authority. But then I began to think of the cost of the building and the size of crowds that these performances draw elsewhere, on lawns, wide plain air surfaces and then with a cold shudder I realized that the Gehry’s venue has some profitability problems even if they the sold out of the whole to 800 bodies. The joint is running straight to bankruptcy. That is!
Eager to escape the succubus, moderate one, the world may run bankrupt soon, what do I care? I made an U turn off the mammoth screen and I bumped into the ultimate symbol, the extreme revelation, the total embodiment of the entire endeavor, the GUITAR TOTEM which was located and not by chance, in the adjacent hall. Keep things together when you can, my revered patron, that is the name of the game. Its initial name – The Collision Sculpture was very justified too, I think it was called also the Guitar Tower and after was christenized provisory as IF VI WAS IX and seems that today got even a little bit more explicit as IF VI WAS IX ROOTS and BRANCHES, which is without to be especially nasty both alien and agrarian, double AA if you like. But really what it is? To the best of my knowledge it is a totem and something more. It is a totem because it stands up, is monumental
and tells a story, shortly is a kind of erected mnemonic device. Let’s look to some other how to say? consecrated totems or totem-like ware. Details are not very important sometimes is quite difficult to see them because height and uncomfortable nape of the neck position but the conspicuous message of power and majesty cannot be missed. You have here some pristine examples to your service.
To Gehry’ service, Neal Potter (it could be Harry) and Trimpin (a German fellow, it could be Trump-in for what I care) conceived a totem made of details only. Seven to eight hundred, according to various sources, real guitars were pasted into verticality across a three stores high pit.. I imagined them growling, roaring, snarling, humming together and simultaneously, slightly related tunes at midnight time and got really impressed. I was in my seer state without to know it, should I know when this state is coming, and my financial situation today will be totally different. This feeling together with the variety of forms and colors, especially their materiality convinced me that the new name of the museum, it is a museum now, the Museum of Pop Culture, is justified. Why not after all? It is better than to call it Jimmy or Mini, or Mona not? By the way Pop Culture and Pop Art define two different things
and aim to two different targets. Pop Culture is for youth with a big Y and Pop Art is for progressive Bankers with a big B. I swear to you, respectfully, that never the semantic confusion and I am kind, was strongly than nowadays. However the story does not end here. It does not matter how many guitars got inside. Who has the patience to count them? It is is not very important that a big part of them were specially ordered to be rebuilt for the case. Money flows
like crazy, damn the poor, rebel or not, the REBEL – it is so that Frank defines himself, it is a big spender and I agree…Michelangelo didn’t care either, he was driving the tough pope Julius II nuts…It is not important that beside guitars you have synthesizers, banjos, trumpets, violins, drums, whatever instruments, a stubborn one will find even an electric toaster…it is not important that you cannot see it completely, it if you are not laying on the floor as the disinhibited teenager in the Sound Labs, see above, you cannot see it other than by slices, forgive me to offer my poor sequence and even more unsophisticated video, I will try to improve but my time is running short and I still plan to learn Japanese…, to arrive to the point, a difficult task for me, WHAT IT IS IMPORTANT is that at some moments the weird animal, the ungainly contraption is coming alive. The diabolic Trimpin, a German what do you want? a cultured Goth, connected some of the instruments, he is not totally mad, to 30 computers, which made them play, PHYSCALLY activating them to produce SOUND. Cool relaxation sound of Trimpin own production. So this contraption is a totem, a sound sculpture and a kinetic art artifact and everything in the same time! It is not bad, but where are the drugs? Pop Culture without drugs, you will agree, is MEANINGLES. Are they going to open a shop? Really I do not fancy the little jerk, I am speaking about Gehry. I will soon come back to the issue upon two other capital undertakings he fathered so to say, the Guggenheim Museum and the Vuitton foundation and apply myself to conclude in an emphatic and arcane manner and style that judges who are very literary blokes use when they deal with a case that got the full media attention.
Your always indebted and very respectful and totally grateful,