Sculpture of a fish
Standing Glass Fish (1986) by Frank Gehry at the Weisman Art Museum


A Fishstory

Most students who grew up in and around Minneapolis have many memories of running around the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Home of the Spoonbridge and Cherry, Claes Oldenberg’s iconic sculpture that has come to serve as an emblem for Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a Minneapolis must-see and draws in large crowds of visitors year round despite Minnesota weather.

With the recent beginnings of the Walker’s renovation plan, the sculpture garden has been temporarily closed and dismantled, an unnerving event for many of us who call Minneapolis home. The two year renovation will restructure the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, positioning it as a gateway to downtown and featuring many new and some old sculptures. Some of the original sculptures have been relocated to various other established cultural institutions in Minneapolis including the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Gold Metal Park near the Guthrie Theater. One special sculpture has recently made it’s way here to the Weisman Art Museum.

For most visitors and passersby of WAM, the museum is known for it’s deconstructionist architecture. The building has been compared to everything from a rocket ship to an artichoke It is impossible to miss because the stainless steel exterior reflects the colors of the Mississippi River or, even better, technicolor sunsets in the evening. The building was designed by Frank Gehry, beginning in 1989, with the aim of serving as a beacon on the river.

sculpture of a fish
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Gehry has always felt a connection to nature and bodies of water, as an avid hockey player with roots in Canada. However, before Gehry was selected to design the Weisman Art Museum he was known in Minneapolis for the Standing Glass Fish that occupied the greenhouses in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In 1986 Gehry’s first retrospective was held at the Walker Art Center, curated by Mildred Friedman, then the Curator of Design. For the exhibition, Gehry constructed Standing Glass Fish, a large glass fish sculpture that occupied the near entirety of the Walker Art Center’s lobby during the exhibition’s duration. Two years later the fish moved to its home in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where it was admired and adored until a few months ago when the renovation began.

people installing glassfish
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Installation, Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

The form of a fish has been a long recurring motif in Gehry’s creations, and he has called its shape “the perfect form.” His fascination with fish began as a child of a Jewish family in Toronto when his grandmother would travel to the Jewish market every Thursday morning to purchase a carp for gefilte fish. The large carps, sometimes 3 feet long, would swim in the bathtub at Gehry’s home until it was time for them to be killed and Gehry would sit near the bathtub and watch them swim. Gehry has used the image of these childhood carps in various projects of various scales since the early 1980’s. The motif is most commonly found in his fish lamps, one of which resides in the Riverview Gallery of the Weisman Art Museum.

people installing glassfish
2015 Installation at WAM

On Saturday December 5th, members of the local arts community officially welcomed Standing Glass Fish to it’s new home in the Weisman Art Museum. The sculpture will reside here on long term loan, an exciting addition to our collection on display in the appropriately named Karen Bachman & Robert Fisch Gallery. Visitors to the Weisman Art Museum who come just to see the architectural work of Frank Gehry will have yet another opportunity to see his hand at work in the awe inspiring, floor to ceiling, glass sculpture of the fish. Those who come for the art have a new fish to admire and sketch, perhaps similarly to the way Frank Gehry did as a child years ago.

Elise Armani

graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2017 with a BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Art History. Elise is an artist and an independent curator and was the Weisburg Curatorial Fellow at WAM.

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