frank gehry fish lamps1
Gehry’s “Fish Lamps” at LA’s Gagosian Gallery

It’s fitting that a legend renowned for his brand of “liquid architecture” would turn out to have a not-so-secret passion for…fish.

Fish Lamps, left, on view at the Gagosian Galleries in Los Angeles and Paris, are the latest aquatically inspired creations from famed architect Frank Gehry, who’s been called the “most important architect of our time,” as designer of such landmarks as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The lamps, made out of plastic laminate, are ironic for the warmth they impart, not a quality usually associated with the subject matter.

Frank Gehry Guggeheim-Bilbao
Detail of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

What’s fascinating is how Gehry has fused this penchant for the creatures in one way or another in works throughout his career. From the fluid undulations of the Guggenheim Bilbao, to Standing Glass Fish, which graces the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it’s a motif that has long permeated his projects.

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“Standing Glass Fish” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

The affinity was born of a childhood time when his grandmother would leave the live carp she bought at market in a bathtub, where they would swim until ready for preparation as gefilte fish for the family meals. An indelible impression was born, interesting not only from a creative standpoint, but psychologically as well. Gehry says that fish became “like a symbol for a certain kind of perfection that I couldn’t achieve with my buildings.” It highlights how the artistic mind works in its own unfathomable ways, understandable only within the context of the sensibility and experiences of the creator.

Fish Lamps (created last year) are a return to what Gehry calls that “perfect form,” a continuation of an idea begun as a commission for the Formica Corp. in 1984. Their shimmering iridescence shines new light on an artist’s lifelong and lovely obsession with the shapes and patterns of the denizens of the deep.