107 Minutes Inside the <em>Frank Gehry</em> Retrospective at Paris’s Centre Pompidou

Frederick R. Weisman Art and Teaching Museum, 1990-1993, 2000-2011 (built) Minneapolis, Minnesota Photo: Don F. Wong

France is experiencing a Frank Gehry frenzy: While construction of a Gehry-designed steel tower for the LUMA Arles art center in the South of France is still underway, Paris waits for the new glass-enveloped Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation to open its doors in the Bois de Boulogne at the end of October. Timed to coincide with the public inauguration of the highly anticipated building, the Centre Pompidou hosts an understated yet profound retrospective of the Pritzker Prize–winning architect’s career (on view through January 26, 2015). 

The series of exhibition spaces, created by Gehry’s own studio, leads the viewer through the architect’s oeuvre chronologically, charting the stylistic and technological evolution of his career with 67 models and more than 200 sketches. The show opens with his earliest works, including his own 1977 home in Los Angeles, constructed of plywood, wire mesh and corrugated metal (heavily inspired by the rough-hewn materials artist friends Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns used at the time), and moves to the brilliantly engineered, sculptural forms that define his work today. Think: the sinuous metal façades of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Guggenheim Bilbao. Lesser-known designs are also featured, including a never-realized, coal-shaped skyscraper for a 2007 national design competition held by the nation of Andorra—a contest that was eventually (and perhaps wisely) abandoned.

The showcase culminates, of course, with the exhibition’s raison d’être: a small-scale version of the 150,000-square-foot Fondation Louis Vuitton, its miniature plastic sails ethereally lit beneath exhibition lights. Though hardly comparable to witnessing the real thing once it opens, what this exhibition offers is the rare chance for the spectator to take in these world-famous structures without, for once, being dwarfed by their magnitude. Place Georges Pompidou; 33-1/44-78-12-33; centrepompidou.fr.