Frank Gehry - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Phillips
  • "The fish is a perfect form."
    —Frank Gehry



    While Frank Gehry is best known for his architectural feats, his experimentation with furniture has been a constant thread winding throughout his career. In the 1970s he debuted the innovative Easy Edges furniture line, utilizing cardboard to create modern and affordable seating. A decade later, he introduced his fish lamps, which were at first the accidental product of a collaboration with the Formica Corporation. Commissioned to create an object out of ColorCore, a plastic laminate, Gehry dropped one of the pieces he was given; the broken shards reminded the artist of fish scales and inspired him to create lamps using fish imagery.


    The fish form has nostalgic significance for Gehry, whose interest in the animal stemmed from his childhood visits to the market with his grandmother, who bought carp for the traditional Gefilte fish for Shabbat dinner. In anticipation of food preparation, the carp would be held in the bathtub, where Gehry remembers sitting by mesmerized, watching it twist and turn. Perhaps also a personal nod to the artist’s zodiac sign, Pisces, the fish’s ability to move throughout space appealed to him and he sought to recreate this elegance of motion in his work. The motif began to appear in Gehry’s drawings in 1980, as his continual fascination with the fish led him on occasion to use the form as a surrogate for an undesigned architectural structure that he was considering or tinkering with.


    Though Gehry executed approximately 30 of these ColorCore fish lamps in 1983–1986, each was unique: he used several fish form variations, and the supporting bases differed in both size and material. For the artist’s first major retrospective at the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis in 1986, director Martin Friedman commissioned as its center piece a large-scale outdoor fish sculpture, which is now on long-term loan to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. On this occasion, Gehry and New City Editions released a series of approximately 12 vertically-moving glass fish lamps of the same form on lumber bases in 1986–1988. Building upon these simpler fish lamps, Gehry, still in collaboration with New City Editions, produced two glass variants with the central fish diving into a glass vitrine on an elegant copper base in 1987—one of which is the present work, and the other of which is held in the artist’s personal collection.


    Gehry's continual fascination with the fish form led him to incorporate the imagery into larger-scale commissions on several other occasions, including for a 40-foot wood fish sculpture for Castello di Rivoli in 1985; a two-story, chain-link mesh and copper jumping fish structure for a restaurant in Kobe, Japan built between 1986 and 1988; and a monumental commission for the 1992 Olympic Pavilion in Barcelona. In turn, the fluidity and curvilinear quality intrinsic to the fish form became a part of Gehry’s architectural vocabulary, underlying monumental structures like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. 

    • Provenance

      New City Editions, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987


Fish Lamp

glass, electrical lighting, patinated copper and glue
fish 21 1/2 x 15 x 8 1/2 in. (54.6 x 38.1 x 21.6 cm)
vitrine 24 x 9 5/8 x 17 1/4 in. (61 x 24.4 x 43.8 cm)
pedestal 45 1/4 x 18 x 25 3/8 in. (114.9 x 45.7 x 64.5 cm)
overall 71 x 21 x 25 3/8 in. (180.3 x 53.3 x 64.5 cm)

Executed in 1987, this work is one of 2 glass variants fabricated by New City Editions, Los Angeles.

The other glass variant is housed in the collection of the artist.

Full Cataloguing

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $239,400

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session, New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021