Frank Gehry - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "The fish is a perfect form."
    —Frank Gehry
    Famed for his uniquely dynamic and abstract monumental buildings breaking from classical architectural forms, Frank Gehry’s aesthetic vocabulary often explores fragmentation, dynamism and movement within architecture and design. In the fish, Gehry saw an opportunity to move away from the modernist stagnation of the stark box to a more active, undulating architecture. Infused with movement, seemingly disparate pieces come together to form a whole figure, such as the scales of a fish creating an arching and energetic creature. While the fish is not exactly linked to the mythos of the live carp his grandmother bought once a week while Gehry was growing up in Toronto to make gefilte fish, the figure takes on a greater historicism as a way of grounding his abstract designs in a recognizable form.i


    Fish sculpture by Frank Gehry at Port Olympic marina. Barcelona seafront. Catalonia, Spain
    Fish sculpture by Frank Gehry at Port Olympic marina. Barcelona seafront. Catalonia, Spain. Image: Nick Hawkes / Alamy Stock Photo

    "He had never been comfortable with mimicking the forms of the past, and he was far more interested in finding other ways out of the dilemma of modernism’s aesthetic fatigue. The fish, for Gehry, was one of those ways—its form was emphatically not modern; perhaps even more to the point, it was not really a part of the architectural vocabulary at all."
    —Paul Goldbergerii
    In 1982 Frank Gehry was invited by the Formica Corporation to design with their new, solid core laminate Colorcore ©. Having directed his team to throw a sheet of the material forcibly against a wall, the retrieved shards made him declare “fish scales!” Gehry was also fascinated by the material’s translucency–which enabled light to pass through its surface. Fish imagery appears regularly in early Frank Gehry sketches; and it was only a small leap for the game-changing architect to envision a fish lamp composed of broken Colorcore shards. Over the following 24 months, Frank Gehry in association with New City Editions, Venice, California produced approximately three dozen fish and snake lamps, with a variety of fish forms each resting on an individualized, innovative base. In the current work, a subtly swimming fish rests on top of a massive eucalyptus tree trunk. It was made for the architect’s first presentation of fish lamps in New York. Many of the works from that exhibition were acquired by recognized collectors as well as several historically acclaimed artists.

    The fish lamps were not Gehry’s first foray into exploring the fish form, having utilized the concept in many of his architectural designs, both realized and unrealized. These fluid and curvilinear shapes inspired by the fish’s form grant visual harmony to the apparent unpredictability and fragmentation of his iconic buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In one such attempt to incorporate the actual fish figure into his project, Gehry was paired on a project by the Architectural League of New York with sculptor Richard Serra, working to develop a bridge connecting the Chrysler Building and World Trade Center in which he sketched a monumental fish leaping from the water.iii For Gehry’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. As with his friend Claes Oldenburg, Gehry brings an easily recognized form such as the carp to a monumental scale, leading the viewer to take another glance and reconsider the figure. Other large-scale sculptural iterations of the fish include 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. 

    i Frank Gehry: Fish Lamps, Gagosian, June 2, 2021, online
    ii Ibid.
    iii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      New City Editions, Los Angeles
      Metro Pictures, New York
      Joyce Eliason, Los Angeles
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Metro Pictures, Frank Gehry: Fish and Snake Lamps, November 27–December 22, 1984


Fish Lamp

formica, glass, wood, steel and electrical lighting, in 2 parts
fish 11 x 28 x 9 in. (27.9 x 71.1 x 22.9 cm)
base 54 1/2 x 19 x 12 in. (138.4 x 48.3 x 30.5 cm)

Executed in 1984.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $176,400

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 November 2022