Up for auction at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is a 44-inch long, 14-inch wide, and 12-inch high lead fish. Made by Frank Gehry between 1987 and 1988, the untitled sculpture was a custom commission for the Toronto offices of advertising agency Chiat/Day. The work also comes complete with a white enameled bathtub; the fish rests on glass that mimics water.
Mark Linder, author of Nothing Less than Literal, studied Gehry’s fascination with the figure of the fish. Linders detailed how fish have been prevalent in Gehry’s life since he was a boy. When living in Toronto, Gehry’s grandma, Lillian Caplan, would keep live carp in the bath, using them to make gefilte fish for traditional Jewish Sabbath suppers. Perhaps that was the inspiration for Gehry’s lead creation? Speculation may, however, may be all we can do—the end of the line (pardon the pun). Speaking in the Globe and Mail, Gehry rubbished any fishy connections between Caplan’s carp and his architecture, saying that they have “nothing to do with that house, nothing to do with the fish in the bathtub.”
According to Linder, though, Gehry viewed the fish as an “empty signifier.” Being “architecturally dumb,” the fish’s abstraction from architecture allowed the celebrated Canadian architect to “rethink architectural forms” from a withdrawn perspective. The fish was “anti-architecture” and “anti-humanist.” Gehry played with these ideas at a time when referencing history and humanist themes were prevalent postmodern qualities in architecture.
Peter Loughrey, director of Modern Design & Fine Art, said in a press release:
Probably more than any architect, Gehry liked to incorporate fine art and sculpture into his work. More freedom was available to him as an artist than with buildings. In 1970s he liked cardboard because it’s a material where you go from concept to prototype to finished product in one day. Gehry identifies as a an artist more than any other architect.