When Vanity Fair released the results of its poll for the best piece of architecture built in the last 30 years, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao Museum had the most votes by far. Twenty-eight of the 52 people surveyed–most of them leading architects, academics and critics–voted for the Bilbao museum, compared with the next best thing, Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection museum in Houston, which got nine.
Gehry’s lopsided victory inspired a lenghty piece in the magazine by Matt Tyrnauer, a Vanity Fair editor who oversaw the survey. The piece does an excellent job explaining Gehry’s artistic evolution, from his first inspired moment seeing the Chartes Cathedral, to his later influences like seeing the combines of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. But perhaps most interesting, Tyrnauer notes the importance of fish. Gehry’s fascination with the species lend his mature work their nautical, silvery and often bulbous shape. Often, you see their shiny curves, and think, salmon! Or if you’re Jewish, lox!
Gehry is of course Jewish (ne Goldberg). So you can’t help but wonder whether his fascination with fish actually has something to do with lox. That’s what I was thinking when I read Tyrnauer’s essay, but I was wrong. Lox has nothing to do it.
It’s actually gefilte fish.
The article doesn’t say it, but Tyrnauer reveals the information in a recent interview on Charlie Rose. Tyrnauer says that Gehry told him that he grew up surrounded by carp in his kitchen; his grandmother diced them up for her gefilte fish. No kidding.
It’s more than just an intereting Jewish factoid too. A common trope in architecture journalism these days is to cite the "Bilbao effect," which can mean a number of things. But one is the liberation archictects have felt ever since the Bilbao opened to ubiquotious praise in 1997. Architects now felt able to follow a wholly new, freewheeling style that was strikingly more amendable to individual innovation than Modernism or Postmodernism, the dominant styles of the 20th century.
To be sure, there are critics. They argue that because of the utter novelty of a Gehry building, the Bilbao effect isn’t actually that freeing at all. Most who try to create something in the aesthetically open space Gehry cleared for them end up looking just like him. Moreover, because Gehry relies heavily on computers and even has his own software that hundreds of architects now use, Gehry’s "look" is now coming to dominate. Witness the work of Zaha Hadid, or Thom Mayne.
All that may be true. But excuse me for being cute here: isn’t also true of any great gefilte fish? In other words, it’s not Gehry’s fault; it’s his culinary inspiration.
Gefilte fish, in theory, should allow for a multitude of different textures and tastes, since the idea is that you can use any type of fish to make it work. All you do is grind it up, add some eggs, onions and mazto, and you got yourself a dish. And while there’s certainly better and worse gefilte fish, the best kinds usually taste strikingly alike.