Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry: The Masterpieces
by Jean-Louis Cohen
Cahiers d'Art/Flammarion, November 2021

Hardcover | 9-3/4 x 12-1/4 inches | 384 pages | 480 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9782080248503 | $85.00


An authoritative compendium on the main masterpieces of Frank Gehry, including 480 illustrations and photographs, produced in collaboration with Cahiers d’Art.
Experimenting with a range of materials from cheap mass-produced items to space-age titanium, and using 3D computer modeling as an architectural tool, Frank Gehry’s buildings are remarkable and surprising, united by the sense of movement they convey. His projects flow, curve, bend, and crumple in novel and unexpected ways, subverting traditional building norms.
From his own home in Santa Monica to the undu­lating Beekman Tower in New York, from the shining curves of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, and his most recent construction, Luma Arles, Gehry has left his indelible mark on the history of architectural design. Forty of the renowned architect’s most remarkable works are presented by architect and critic Jean-Louis Cohen, alongside views of the interiors and exteriors of each building. This tour includes many of Gehry’s works throughout the United States and abroad, such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the one-of-a-kind “Binoc­ulars Building” in Los Angeles, and the beloved “Dancing House” in Prague. 

Jean-Louis Cohen is France’s most authoritative historian of twentieth-century architecture. He has published more than forty books and curated numerous architectural expositions. He is the Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture department at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and holds a chair at the Collège de France.


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Who or what dictates a "masterpiece"? Is it determined by popular consensus, by the amount of attention a creation garners and sustains over time? Or is it deemed such by experts in a field? Helpfully, at the end of his introduction to Frank Gehry: The Masterpieces, Jean-Louis Cohen clarifies that, countering the term's "academic and congratulatory connotations," he opts for the usage in Étienne Boileau's 13th-century The Book of Trades: a masterpiece is "none other than a 'crucial work,' a piece that qualifies an apprentice to be considered a master of his craft." In the context of Gehry's long career of around 180 completed projects, the number of "masterpieces" is high; Cohen's book collects 38 such buildings spanning six decades, from 1961 to 2021.

The first building in the chronological presentation of Gehry buildings (ordered by project start date) will be unknown to those who know him as the architect of the Guggenheim Bilbao and other high-profile institutional buildings. It is the Hillcrest Apartment Building (first spread, below), completed in 1962 in Santa Monica, which Cohen describes as "this first refined residence by Gehry," done with associate C. Gregory Walsh. There's nothing foreshadowing Gehry's later experiments with inexpensive materials and even later formal inventiveness, but the project comes across photographs as highly pleasing, especially the Japanese-inspired interiors, something touched on by Cohen.

Like the 37 projects that follow, Hillcrest is documented with one title page, one page of quotes by Gehry and others, one page of text by Cohen, and photos (no drawings) filling the balancing pages. The projects are presented across six to twelve pages, making the whole assemblage of Gehry's career cursory at best. Even so, Cohen has a deep knowledge of Gehry's oeuvre and design process (the first of the planned eight-volume Frank Gehry: Catalogue Raisonné of the Drawings edited by Cohen was released last year by Cahiers d'Art), which makes his project descriptions highly revealing. Cohen's text is the most valuable part of the book, outside of having an all-in-one-place bound volume of Gehry's masterpieces.

The only glaring omission among the nearly forty buildings gathered from roughly 180 buildings around the world — at least from this New Yorker's perspective — is the IAC Headquarters in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. The later 8 Spruce Street (aka New York by Gehry) is here, but Gehry's first ground-up building in NYC is missing, apparently not considered a "crucial work." But, with its double-curved glass panels, not the by-then expected Gehry titanium or stainless steel, pushing the envelope at the time (ca. 2004–2007), the office building is obviously important in Gehry's oeuvre, if not without its flaws. Sadly, I don't get to read Cohen's insight on IAC, but his takes on the numerous other Gehry masterpieces do nicely.

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