By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Having vented, I am now free to consider Gehry’s work on its own terms, as it deserves. His best buildings, like Bilbao and Disney Hall, are marked by a sense of the flamboyant improvisational gesture frozen in time and rendered monumental. The displays in “Work in Progress,” designed to convey the details of the creative process, succeed in following this strain from Gehry’s initial, almost automatist doodles (among the most artistic of the objets on view) through incremental stages of practical realization, each more faux-spontaneous than the previous. This is the most conceptually fascinating aspect of the show: how a genuinely expressive freeform gesture, through a process of accommodation to externally imposed limitations set by physics, engineering codes and fashion, becomes a marvelously ambiguous monument to ephemerality.
Taken strictly as artworks, there are several highlights in the exhibition — the enormous suspended womblike fiberglass Sculpture for Gallery A (an abandoned project for Gagosian) being the most obvious. The actual building models are charming in their use of low-tech materials and their occasional absurdity, but after the first hundred or so, their idiosyncrasies seem more like consensus, and they get hard to see. The more gigantic ones — particularly the convoluted play structure representing the Ray and Maria Stata Center for MIT — manage to overcome this effect, but some editing of the models would have helped. Curiously, another space-saving strategy results in some of the show’s best visual effects. Several of the site models — to-scale representations of the proposed building in its environs, including adjacent buildings, foliage, streets, etc. — are hung like paintings, and read like surprisingly fresh ones at that. Form may follow function, but once they get where they’re going, function can be ditched without any loss of oomph. The Disney Hall section of the exhibit is strangely undernourished, offering little that can’t be experienced in full-body Sensurround by walking two blocks to experience the actual building.
A couple of Industry yuppies have recently moved in on the other side of us and are busy scuttling the rat-infested charm of Mrs. Keena’s crumbling Craftsman bungalow in favor of some kind of Dwell-mandated institutional slickness. Maybe we’ll luck out when they get around to the fence this time, though, and they’ll install some swooping trickle-down Gehry that my nephews can use for skateboard practice.
Are you happy with the result, Ernest Fleischmann?
“Deliriously,” says Fleischmann.
As long ago as 1969, when the 45-year-old Fleischmann took on the daunting job of general director of Zubin Mehta’s (and Dorothy Chandler’s) Philharmonic, the poverty of sound in the Music Center’s crowning concert hall was recognized and widely discussed. “A highly undistinguished noise,” Fleischmann remembered in last week’s phone chat. “The winds and brass constantly had to overblow ‰ just to make themselves heard. We were never able to hear the bass end of the sound spectrum, and basses are the foundation of any orchestra.”
The Music Center was planned and built as a blatant imitation of New York’s Lincoln Center, and the sound at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion turned out nearly as much of an acoustical disaster as had Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall. “No, our hall wasn’t that bad,” says Fleischmann. “But the Lincoln Center people were at least able to find the money to make a few repairs. We couldn’t. We called in acoustic engineers, but everything they suggested was far beyond anything we could afford.
“Actually, we had two kinds of problem. The poor sound was only one of them. The other was what you could call a matter of ‘psycho-acoustics.’ The Chandler was built to house both concerts and stage presentations. That meant there had to be a proscenium, to frame the stage and separate it from the audience. There isn’t an all-purpose hall anywhere that can offer good sound for both kinds of entertainment. The first marvel at Disney — of many — is its lack of proscenium.”
Neither Fleischmann nor anyone else in Los Angeles could have anticipated Lillian Disney’s determination, in 1985, to step onto the Music Center stage with her $50 million gift for a new hall. “I knew Mrs. Disney, of course,” says Fleischmann, “and maybe we had talked about hall problems in a cursory way. But her gift came out of the blue. The Philharmonic was in Europe when the news broke. I was flying back to Los Angeles, and was in the TWA lounge in New York, changing planes, when somebody had me paged with the news. I think I may have finished my flight without the help of an airplane.”
As Philharmonic honcho until his retirement in 1998, Fleischmann played an active role in the Disney Hall planning, pushing hard for the installation of a proper pipe organ — a rarity in Los Angeles concert halls — and in the selection of qualified acoustical advice. “One day — in 1988 or thereabouts — I got a call from the pianist Krystian Zimmerman, a good friend. He was on tour in Japan, and had just played in a new hall in Tokyo, Suntory. He was really excited about the sound in that hall, and urged me to get in touch with the acousticians who had created that atmosphere. I did, and that’s how the firm of Minoru Nagata, and his young assistant Yasuhisa Toyota, came onto the scene.”
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