Frank Gehry at the Pompidou Center in Paris

Last week I got a chance to see the AD&A Museum’s model of the Edgemar Center in Santa Monica, designed by Frank Gehry in 1970, now on display at the Pompidou Center as part of Paris in their big Frank Gehry retrospective. I arrived in the morning and the first thing I did after checking in to the hotel was take the metro over to the Museum.

After haggling over the ticket (US credit cards don’t work in the automatic ticket dispensers), I walked into the exhibition. I knew it wouldn’t be the first room, nor was it in the second, but I turned the corner and saw the video display– Frank Gehry talking about his career– and thirty people crowded into the space. I realized that our model was the one everyone was draped over. Lined up against the wall where people were standing was the model for the Chiat-Day complex on Ocean Ave, and next to it was the Edgemar Center, which is less than a mile down the street. It was great to see that the curators had been sensitive to the actual physical location of the two building complexes. But it was nicer to see that half the visitors were going to get a very intimate experience of our model, as they crowded around it trying to see the video. The rest of the show was full, but the heart of it was Frank Gehry talking (in English)– and that’s where most people were concentrated.

The show was extraordinary–as, naturally, so are Gehry’s accomplishments. What the Edgemar Center makes one realize is that it’s not just the big showy extravagant works that we all recognize today that are the basis of his genius, it’s the intense, quiet love of materials and spaces, and the surprises they contain that constitutes his genius. The Edgemar model is a very low-key, reticent thing–no crumpled paper, or surprising twists and turns–but it forces the viewer to rethink the Gehry we all know today and understand where he came from.

By Bruce Robertson
Professor of History of Art and Architecture

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