Frank Gehry wins Getty Trust’s annual career achievement medal

Frank Gehry, pictured inside Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2013, has won this year's J. Paul Getty Medal for career contributions to visual art.

Frank Gehry, pictured inside Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2013, has won this year’s J. Paul Getty Medal for career contributions to visual art.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Frank Gehry is this year’s recipient of the J. Paul Getty Medal, the Getty Trust’s annual award for leadership in visual art.

Gehry becomes the first designer or artist to win the award that the Getty launched in 2013. The prize – a bronze medal with a profile portrait of J. Paul Getty – recognizes lifetime contributions in various art-related fields that are part of the Getty’s mission, including philanthropy, art-history research, archeology and conservation of art and architecture, as well as art-making.

“No one deserves it more than Frank, who effectively redefined contemporary architecture through the use of new technologies,” Getty President James Cuno said.

Gehry will receive the medal at a private dinner at the Getty Center on Sept. 28.

The 2013 medal went to Harold Williams and Nancy Englander, the founding Getty Trust president and executive who laid out its diverse mission and steered it toward building the Getty Center in Brentwood, which opened in 1997. Last year’s winner, Lord Jacob Rothschild, was honored for his wide-ranging art philanthropy.


Does Gehry’s award mean that, in the Getty’s eyes, he should be defined as a visual artist as well as an architect?

“I think it’s important to keep him defined as an architect,” Cuno said, noting that the Getty’s mission frequently veers into architecture in its collections, exhibitions and international conservation projects. “But he’s an architect who throughout his career has had very close working and personal relationships with contemporary artists. He’s designed art studios, art exhibitions and worked closely with artists in designing museums, the Guggenheim Bilbao for example.”

Gehry’s most celebrated buildings in L.A. include Walt Disney Concert Hall, whose billowing form was realized using pioneering computerized design techniques; the playful 1980s “binoculars building” in Venice that sports giant decorative binoculars designed by husband-and-wife artists Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen and is now leased by Google; and Gehry’s own home in Santa Monica. There, the renovations he made in 1978 using inelegant materials such as chain link fencing, corrugated metal and plywood were at first widely derided, then recognized as groundbreaking.

Gehry won architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 1989, the year after he’d won a design competition to land the job of creating Disney Hall. At 86, he continues to take on work, including the Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum in Paris, which opened last year and was hailed as “a late-career ambitious as anything Gehry has ever produced” by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.

Gehry has a permanent foothold in the Getty’s research collections, which include his wood and styrofoam models for a 1980s home in Brentwood and a massive cache of papers, photographs and sound and video recordings from the Disney Hall project, occupying 122 feet of shelf space.

He was featured in the Getty’s sweeping 2013 exhibition, “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future,” which told the story of Los Angeles architecture from 1940 to 1990 and included a large model of his residence. In 2011 Gehry joined Ed Moses, Laddie John Dill and other close associates from the L.A. art scene for a panel discussion at the Getty Center entitled “Modern Art in Los Angeles: Frank Gehry and the Los Angeles Art Scene.”

Cuno said that the Getty’s senior staff makes a list of candidates for the Getty Medal, and the Getty Trust’s board picks the winner. He said the aim is to offer the board a selection of finalists representing all the fields encompassed by the Getty’s mission.

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