The source of this impasse is the design itself—a signature work of the overpraised architect Frank Gehry, whose whispered name is enough to raise goose pimples from the (wise and learned) hides of postmodernist aesthetes like the Fine Arts commissioners. It’s worth noting that the laborers who are charged with actually building his designs have a rather different reaction, as across the globe one overpriced Gehry creation after another spouts leaks, shows sudden and mysterious stains, and sends loosened objects flying off his innovative surfaces onto innocent passersby. Maybe this accounts for the first stirrings of an overdue anti-Gehry consensus forming among international tastemakers. Facing a hostile question at a press conference in Spain recently, Gehry responded by raising his middle finger. Artists often speak in symbols.
As the bodies charged with approving his design have raised humble, incremental objections, very delicately—nobody wants to get flipped off by a starchitect!—Gehry has made the minimum adjustments necessary. But the design’s essential absurdity remains: a vast urban rectangle dotted at the edges with 80-foot columns and enclosing great marble boxes of mysterious purpose. If anything, the absurdity may have increased with each revision. The too-high columns were silly enough when they served to hoist enormous metal scrims depicting scenes from Ike’s home state of Kansas; now Gehry has eliminated two of the three screens but the columns are still there, standing lonely and functionless, like the ruins of an ancient temple blown up by art critics.