After designing spaces such as the acclaimed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry's place in the popular consciousness will forever be intertwined with art. Perhaps lesser-known, however, are his artistic forays outside of architecture. Fish Lamps, on display at Gagosian Gallery, Davies Street, provides an insight into Gehry's artistic hand, reflective of his buildings, drawings, models and sculptures – a key to his architectural practice.
Gagosian Gallery in Mayfair is not an exceptionally large space. A stone's throw away from Oxford Street, its incredibly central location betrays the art world's pretense that a gallery is anything other than a commercial space. Big windows open this white cube out onto the street, making it look like an upmarket interior design store. Gehry's works – called 'sculptures' by the Gagosian, but, by most standards, they are stunningly beautiful (yet ultimately practical) lamps – do little to dissuade the notion that this is a high-end Habitat.
The works themselves are really quite stunning. Hanging from the ceiling, suspended against the wall or in clusters on purpose-made stands this Fish Lamp series displays the fluidity of Gehry's architectural forms in smaller, easily covetable doses. Perhaps this is the architect in him: you can make a building beautiful but above all else it must be usable. Sometimes the practicality does take over, however, as the ugly white wiring (no different than that of any standard electrical appliance) of the floor pieces grounds them rather horrifically. As design objects these pieces merge the best of Gehry's past successes. Reminiscent of Easy Edges (1969–73) and Experimental Edges (1979–82), Gehry proves his ability to make something practical for the home out of unexpected materials.
Fish Lamps, however, are something slightly more magical than Gehry's other interior design pieces (such as his tables and chairs), as they appear to have a life force of their own. Their glowing light and lifelike form feels as though you have looked in on the soul of a supernatural entity. Complete with their own creation story, courtesy of Gagosian, Gehry becomes an almost godlike designer. Fashioned from ColorCore, a kind of versatile laminate, the Fish Lamps were created when a piece was accidently shattered and reminded Gehry of fish scales. The resulting series (originally made in the mid-1980s and revisited in 2012) allowing Gehry to create an imitation of fish life – and forming, in their wake, an artistic Prometheus myth of sorts.
To own one of this collection would be a pleasure, but very few will have the space to host it. Take the chandelier group, for example: a twelve-foot-high ceiling in a room with an extraordinarily large floor plan would be integral to display it in its best light. This kind of display space is not something Gagosian's Davies Street space has to offer, as this is a showroom with scarcely room enough to show the oversized works.
I cannot think of anyone who would not enjoy the visual pleasure that Gehry's fish lamps offer. They have a simple elegance – to view them is like watching Koi carp in a pond. As Gehry himself claims: "The fish is a perfect form".
But this exhibition is best viewed from outside of Gagosian's actual space. Look in through the windows and enjoy the light emitted from within – up close you cannot take it all in. These pieces are the Christmas light of London's gallery circuit: perhaps when doing your frantic shopping this festive season, make a detour to take in something intensely beautiful.