Why Another Book About Frank Gehry?


Take one Paul Holdengraber (fabulously accented — and generally fabulous — director of LIVE from the New York Public Library), add 80-year-old architect Frank Gehry, count on outgoing LA Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, and throw in a dash of Barbara Isenberg, and you have a highbrow Monday night at the Celeste Bartos Forum.

The three — Salonen had thrown his back out (from conducting so vigorously, Holdengraber implied) — were gathered there that day to talk about creativity, play, and the overall point of it all. First Disney Hall — where, Gehry said, he was given the chance to line the musicians up a little bit, control where they sat, avoid the musical mish-mash that starts to happen once the musicians get a little spatial freedom from “playing footsie with the stage hands.”

Holdengraber wanted to know how Salonen managed to be and stay cool, while Gehry wanted to know why, on the inaugural Disney Hall concert, Salonen had insisted on introducing the architect’s voice, asking “Why the fiiiiiiish?” as a digital addition to his classical composition. We all wanted to know that the typically uptight musicians all responded with a lip-sync of “Because there’s no beeeeef.”

Since libraries involve books and talks generally revolve around some kind of new publication, conversation tracked around to Isenberg’s Conversations with Frank Gehry , a collection of interviews architecture-and-book (so he would know) critic Martin Filler describes in the Times as “an engaging introduction for general readers.”

But why another book about Gehry?

The way Isenberg told it, she ran into the architect at an opening. He said he wanted to talk to her about something, she called him the next day, he asked her to do an oral history with him, and she said yes. The way Gehry told it, they saw each other at a funeral (!), he asked her how one went about getting an oral history done, and she said she’d do it. (So much for the infallibility of oral history.)

It’s mostly about creating and then passing on a legacy. “Everything can be inspiration,” Frank said. It reminded them of the Simpsons episode “The Seven-Beer Snitch,” in which Gehry’s invited to design a Springfield concert hall. Uninterested, he wads up the invitation and throws it in the trash. (You can guess the rest.)

What we got out of it is that Gehry’s had an awesome life. He’s eighty, but he’s still designing. And some of his projects — like the IAC, or Atlantic Yards — aren’t the greatest in the universe. But he’s still doing wacky creative projects — like the brilliantly critical Sketches of Frank Gehry movie and the improbable lounge he just designed for Emeco — and it’s still impossible not to be caught up in his whirlwind. We left the event wanting to find our own crumpling-paper equivalent. And really wanting to hang out with the Finn.