Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Frank Gehry is having what publicists call a “moment”: Frank Gehry, a retrospective at LACMA, opened on September 13Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, a biography penned by critic Paul Goldberger, was just published by Knopf; and he’s the 2015 recipient of the J. Paul Getty Award. The only problem is that, as a prolific architect for more than half of his 86 years, he’s moved beyond a moment, or even Warhol’s fifteen minutes. What we’re seeing now is the writing of his legacy and the prodigious desire for the archetypal architect to steer his firm, Gehry Partners, into a future beyond his signature. That future includes out-of-character projects, such as the study for the L.A. River.

Mimi Zeiger: What does it mean to you to have a retrospective of work opening at LACMA, an institution you’ve worked with for so many years? This new show is a far cry from renting furniture for a show you designed for Billy Al Bengston in 1968.

Frank Gehry: I have a problem looking back. I love working with [LACMA senior curator Stephanie Barron], on shows, but I couldn’t bring myself to work with her on my show.

What do you mean by “I have a problem looking back”?

Well, I think I work forward. I love my projects, but I figure if they’re worth documenting, other people will do it. Does that make sense? Read More …

The Frank Gehry retrospective on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art starts out magnificently modest. Visitors enter the Resnick Pavilion and walk through a gallery of recent contemporary artworks gifted to the museum. The architect’s name hangs in capital letters against a navy background and, for a moment, the exhibition signage resembles the work of another Los Angeles master, Ed Ruscha. That fleeting misperception leads to another: Is the title simply an honorific celebration of the 86-year-old Pritzker-winning designer, or is that Frank, frank—a curatorial pun referencing an honest, stripped down approach to architecture? Read More …

I couldn’t sleep last night. LA was having another heatwave and rather than lay awake I read a back issue of The New Yorker, catching up on a report that said a Cascadian earthquake was overdue and would knock out much of the Pacific Northwest. A resulting tsunami would break across the West Coast devastating all architecture and infrastructure west of Interstate 5. “Toast,” noted author Kathryn Schulz.

After falling into a fitful slumber, dreaming of higher, more stable ground, I awoke to another blazing day courtesy of climate change. The sky was singed brown at the edges from wildfires taking out homes somewhere more easterly and the sound of helicopters – the vernacular “ghetto birds” – circled overhead. The reason for police action was neither immediately clear nor personally threatening. I made a note – “get earthquake kit” – then brewed coffee. Pending crisis averted.

Over the last decade, especially with the rise of research-oriented design practices, architecture has tried (and struggled) to address crisis. Specific methodologies vary, but two modes dominate: pre- and post-natural disaster. The second we recognise as social-impact design from the likes of Shigeru Ban and others. MacGyver-like, architectures responsive to aftermath are deployable, agile, and cheap. They may even earn you a Pritzker. Read More …

This is a tale about a blob in a park. Or, this is a tale about a blob in a park with a bridge. Or the tale of a blob in a park, a bridge, and a tower designed by LA’s most famous architect. Or, it’s the tale about a city and a blob in a park, a bridge, a tower, a lacklustre sphere, and a subway stop. It’s a cautionary tale.

In late June the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) releasedPeter Zumthor’s revised design for its new museum buildingHis earlier preliminary design, a self-described “black flower” raised some 30 feet above the ground on oversized glass footings, oozed a wee too close to the La Brea Tar Pits that inspired its undulating form. Leadership at the Page Museum, which actively uses the pits for research, expressed concern and asked Zumthor to back off. Squeezed in and smooched out, the new Schmoo-like scheme maintains the approximately 400,000 square feet required to display museum’s extensive collection, but it does so by stretching across Wilshire Boulevard to a piece of property that is currently a LACMA parking lot. Read More …

It’s a sunny spring morning in Venice, CA. At 10 a.m. there’s no lingering marine cover, and the sky is such a bright blue it makes you blush to think of gray climes just emerging from winter. Cars fill the Westminster Avenue Elementary School parking lot, and visitors arriving for a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour pile out, ready to hit the asphalt in sensible shoes. The self-guided tour is entitled Venice Eclectic: Modern Architecture from the ’70s and ’80s and part of “Curating the City Modern Architecture in L.A.,” the Conservancy’s ongoing contribution to Pacific Standard Time: Modern Architecture in Los Angeles. Read More …

SCI-Arc prides itself on being a restive institution. The school routinely claims edginess, shadow-boxing disciplinary and professional boundaries. So, unsurprisingly, when asked to look back on a 40-year history as part of The Getty’s initiative “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA”, SCI-Arc chose a heretical mantle. A Confederacy of Heretics: The Architecture Gallery, Venice, 1979″, curated by Todd Gannon, Ewan Branda, and Andrew Zago, zeroes in on a 9-week period in autumn 1979 when eleven architects exhibited in a makeshift gallery that popped up in Thom Mayne’s house. The curators unearthed contents of The Architecture Gallery shows through a series of reviews written by then Los Angeles Times architecture critic, John Dreyfuss.

Each practitioner — some more renegade, some more established — upped the ante for the next in the series with an exhibition and accompanying lecture at SCI-Arc’s Berkeley Street campus (all available for viewing at the SCI-Arc Video Archive). The participant list includes some of LA’s most notable figures as well as those for whom the Pritzker remains out of reach: Eugene Kupper, Roland Coate Jr., Frederick Fisher, Frank Dimster, Frank Gehry, Peter de Bretteville, Morphosis (Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi), Studio Works (Craig Hodgetts and Robert Mangurian), and Eric Owen Moss. Artist-architect Coy Howard delivered an opening salvo. At the time, each one of these men was prickly with ambition; a gallery show was the opportunity to prove their worth in the LA scene. Read More …