Four king-size fish lamps glow softly on a back wall of London’s Gagosian Gallery.
They’re unique formica sculptures by architect Frank Gehry, part of a show of his marine lighting.
Flying in for the evening opening, Gehry, 84, says he first started designing fish three decades ago when, irritated by architects’ return to past shapes, he reached back 300 million years for early sea life.
The fish “opened the door to using curved forms and understanding how to make them economically,” he says -- including in the swirling Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, his most admired building.
The 1989 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner is finally getting his first London job: apartment buildings for the riverside Battersea Power Station’s 8 billion-pound ($12.8 billion) development.
He dismisses any idea that Battersea will be to London what the Guggenheim is to Bilbao. “There are certain levels of iconicity that are appropriate for certain uses: public buildings that are libraries, museums, courthouses,” he says.
Still, Gehry -- who, with Bilbao in 1997, pioneered the trend in sculptural facades -- will include a central “flower” tower for those with no power-station view.
“It’ll be an apartment building, but it will look slightly different than the others,” he says. “So I wouldn’t get all excited.”
The Toronto-born Gehry moved to the U.S. in his teens and set up his Los Angeles firm in 1962. He still lives in an unfinished-looking Santa Monica bungalow that he bought in the 1970s and wrapped in corrugated steel and chain link.
Current work includes Facebook Inc.’s new headquarters at the edge of San Francisco Bay, completing in 2015. Client Mark Zuckerberg is “very busy: I don’t get to see much of him,” says Gehry. “I like him. The time I spent with him has been fun.”
The building is “not a big architectural, iconic statement” but “a long wafer over parking. The only expensive thing we did, which he wanted, was a garden: a roof garden.”
Opening next year is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a swelling glass art foundation in Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation commissioned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA Chairman Bernard Arnault, who Gehry has had “a lot of fun working with.”
When Gehry was first shown the site by Arnault and his wife, “I burst into tears, because I realized that Proust must have played there as a child,” he recalls. “I read Proust from time to time.”
Gehry lived in Paris in 1960, and “always loved it, because it’s a walkable city. You can get lost there and feel good about it.”
Though he begs not to be called a “starchitect,” Gehry keeps star company. He designed a New Orleans house for Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which builds for the needy, and he sees Pitt once a year: “He’s a nice guy, I like him.”
Keen to support conductor Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young Israeli and Arab players, “I met Daniel, and he asked me to help him with this little rehearsal space, and I got carried away with it,” says Gehry of the Berlin hall. “It’s quite beautiful, I’m very proud of it. It’s very simple.”
As for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a bigger-than-Bilbao Gehry project that was suspended for a viability review after the Gulf property crash, “they say they’re building it, and we’re getting ready to go to tender,” says Gehry.
The architect is “very excited” about the dialogue that the museum will spark by showing Western and Mideastern art. “Some of the best stuff” in the Mideast is by women, he says, which “makes sense, because a lot of women are not treated well.”
To relax, Gehry tries to sail at least once a week in Marina Del Rey, on his 447, which measures about 45 feet (14 meters).
The sailing dovetails nicely with the fish, I suggest. “That’s right,” says Gehry. “And I’m a Pisces, if that means anything.”
“Frank Gehry: Fish Lamps” is at the Gagosian Gallery, 17-19 Davies Street, London W1K 3DE, though Dec. 21. Information: +44-207-493-3020 or http://www.gagosian.com. While items are for sale, prices of works are not being disclosed to the media.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Mark Beech on music, Frederik Balfour on Asian art, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.