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July 02, 2009

Two Franks and one city.

I flew to NYC to sit on a bench. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. I flew to NYC to ogle a bench. Not just any bench, but a polished aluminum wing-like creation by Frank Gehry. The architect created this one-of-a-kind item with Emeco, the folks who make indestructible aluminum chairs like the 1006 Navy® Chair.

Included in the Sotheby’s Important 20th Century Design auction on June 12, the bench was available for preview in the days before. I went to see Tuyomyo (the name of the bench, which means “yours and mine”) and arrived in a bubble of ladies-who-lunch, walking en masse through the gallery. With the exception of one woman who used the mirror-like bench to check her lipstick, none of them tested the bench for its ability to position two sitters facing each other so they can converse. And conversing was not something these women were afraid to do. Instead, they gave “the tush test” (their words) to the nearby Maria Pergay “Target” Chairs (final hammer price: $32,500 for the pair).

Perhaps you have to be a hard ass to understand the auction world.

As for the Gehry bench, Sotheby’s estimated selling price was $250,000 to $350,000, and when the final bid did not meet the reserve (it was very close), Emeco donated the bench to the Hereditary Disease Foundation. In 1968, Berta and Frank Gehry helped establish this Foundation for research in genetic and brain disorders. All proceeds from the sale of the bench will go to the Foundation’s Leslie Gehry Brenner Award for Innovation in Science, a research fund established in honor of the Gehry’s late daughter. “Interested buyers should contact the Foundation,” says Emeco’s Dan Fogelson, who’s already got his hands full selling $400 aluminum Navy chairs.

From a sinuous bench to a swirling museum, the next Frank on my list was Mr. Wright who’s having a banner year. There’s a novel out about his form-follows-function love life, and the Guggenheim, which he designed, is featuring an exhibit of his work. The NYC landmark was completed 50 years ago, and this is the first FLLW exhibit within his circling walls. Perhaps it’s true that “the mother art is architecture,” as FLLW would say.

I’m a wall-hugger at the Guggenheim. I fear that a suctioning force will come from the void in the center and pull me down, like a giant toilet flushing, dragging with it tourists, tchotchkes and works of art. The white porcelain-like walls don’t help alleviate this sensation, and as if Wright recognized this, the toilet in this restroom appears to have been installed with a wink and a smile. 

Embracing my vertigo, I took the elevator to the top floor and worked my way down through the museum’s spiraling ramp. This is the Wright way, and how he intended the space to be experienced, but the museum – in some sort of Guggenheim guffaw – arranged the FLLW exhibit to start at the bottom. Write to me if you know why. Security grumbled when I asked.

The Guggenheim followed me to lunch at Elmo, where there’s a painting by Robert Loughlin, an artist with a story that’s as interesting as his work. Actually, make that two stories. Story one, as told by the maitre d’, is that Loughlin is a homeless man who has been painting the same face of his late boyfriend since the 1970s. Story two, as I discovered in my research, is that Loughlin works in antiques and the face is actually his boyfriend Gary, who he has been with since the 1980s. Either way, this macho face with cigarette is compelling, and I imagine that what he’s saying about the Guggenheim is: “Start from the top. Work your way down.” 

And if being followed by the work of one Frank wasn’t enough, I was also followed by Gehry, as I could see his IAC Building from my hotel room. (You can also get a great look at it from the High Line, which I’ll discuss in the next Design Notes.)

Gwendolyn Horton

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