The Getty Research Institute announced Wednesday that it has acquired a major portion of architect Frank Gehry’s archives — documents spanning from 1954, when Gehry studied architecture at USC, to 1988, when he submitted the winning design for Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“This is the California time — the Los Angeles time — of Frank,” said Maristella Casciato, senior curator of architectural collections at the Getty Research Institute. “And as such, it is extremely relevant to our collection.”
The acquisition, dubbed “The Frank Gehry Papers,” cements the Getty’s reputation as a top destination for architectural archives. The research institute has made a concerted effort to collect Southern California masters, Casciato said.
Gehry’s papers will join those of John Lautner, Ray Kappe, Welton Becket, Pierre Koenig, Frank Israel, William Krisel and architectural photographer Julius Shulman.
“It’s hard to look at your work and to try to dictate what people will take away from it...for me these models and drawings represent a lot of work; a lot of trial and error; and a lot of my heart and soul,” wrote Gehry in an email while flying from L.A. to Philadelphia for the ground-breaking of the core project phase of a renovation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “I guess my hope is for people to find some inspiration in all these efforts.”
The content of the contribution, which was part purchase and part gift, is massive: about 1,000 sketches, more than 120,000 working drawings, more than 100,000 slides, 168 working models, 112 presentation models and hundreds of boxes of office records, personal papers and correspondence.
“This is a crucial period to understand how Frank shifted architectural language toward high-tech and digital, and also to working with different materials,” said Casciato, adding that the Getty collects documents that other archives often overlook, including records of a project’s construction and its builders. “This allows researchers and scholars to have a full understanding of the working practice in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s.”
The Gehry papers document 283 projects that he designed in his first 34 years of practice. A sampling of materials created after 1988 for projects that were in planning stages before that date are also part of the acquisition. These include construction documents and models for Disney Hall, completed in 2003; early design drawings for the Grand Avenue Project; and the Gehry residence in Santa Monica.
Gehry was born in Toronto in 1929 but moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1947. It is with this city that his name is inextricably linked, thanks to the boundary-pushing Los Angeles practice he established in 1962. His buildings include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
The Gehry acquisition’s impact on the Getty Research Institute is huge, Casciato said. The holdings include more than 1 million books, periodicals and auction catalogs that shine light on the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities.
“He’s still a practicing architect, and he’s giving scholars a way to look at what was seminal at the beginning of his career and how he became an outspoken international figure in modern architecture,” Casciato said.