Frank Gehry: Wishful Thinking
walt Disney Concert Hall, los angeles
Through March 20, 2022
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
A strange little pocket universe has opened up inside Disney Hall as starchitect Frank Gehry’s sculptural homage to the Mad Hatter’s tea party — Wishful Thinking, in a reimagined and more breathable version of the work’s recent Gagosian Gallery installation — occupies the lobby’s smaller BP Hall chamber space like a hallucination. Its already vivid and fanciful accumulation of color, texture and flighty form is amplified and echoed by the shape of the building inside and out — itself one of the more sculptural masterpieces of Gehry’s oeuvre. The result is an elevated and challenging surrealism that does amped-up justice to the giddy flush of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that inspired the piece.
Actually what inspired the artist was a copy of the book that his friend, the actor Carrie Fisher, had gifted him. She appears in the work in the role of Queen of Hearts — one of several characters and a cheeky white hare whose portraits were painted by Alejandro Gehry for the purpose. They perch on larger-than-life cairns made of woven steel, mesh, and sharp sheets of painted metal that echo the crumbled and cantilevered shapes familiar from his architecture, but activated with the amped-up palette of pop and surrealist painting. The figures surround a volatile cloud of these brightly colored shapes, at the interior of which is arrayed the trappings of a tea party in recognizable but stylized objects on a vast, illuminated table. Walkways behind, through, and into the work’s intimate nooks bring viewers inside the experience, into close proximity to the kaleidoscope of surfaces.
One more reason to appreciate its installation at WDCH is that the building’s lofty shapes and specific contours echo rather than interrupt the immersive aspect to the work; looking up to Disney Hall’s sweep of nautical rafters doesn’t break the mood the same way the low white ceiling of the gallery did. In fact, Gehry and his then-collaborator Esa-Pekka Salonen — who held a special talk on the site to celebrate the sculpture’s unveiling — had always envisioned “filling the hall with L.A. artists. They weren’t interested then,” Frank said, “but they are now!”
Salonen concurred, saying, “The building’s magic is in its possibilities, collaboration, and experimentation; this is clearly ongoing and it’s a bloody masterpiece.” He was talking about the building but in sculptural terms he could easily have been speaking of Wishful Thinking itself. Not only because its scale is quasi-architectural (there’s even a telltale maquette displayed to one side) but because its deft fidelity to Gehry’s patented architectural language — even as it seeks out both narrative and nostalgia — speaks to more than an engagement with form. Still concerned with space and the bodily experience of its parsing, but asserting Gehry’s freedom to personal joy in a way that buildings don’t always permit, this work’s power and charm is not only in its visual bravado and command of materials, but also in its expression of a more personal facet of its creator than even his biggest fans often see.
Disney Hall, 10am–3pm daily through March 20, subject to performance schedules; laphil.com.