Ever since visitors watched its miraculous birth in the Walker’s lobby—pieced together scale by scale by artisans for the exhibition of Frank Gehry’s work here in 1986—the Standing Glass Fish has become a beloved icon in the city’s cultural life. The 22-foot creature waited two years before being carefully disassembled and transported across the street to its permanent habitat: a fantastic lily pond among the Mexican fan palms and calamondin orange trees of the crystalline Cowles Conservatory.
One of the most innovative architects practicing today, Gehry is known for using ordinary materials such as raw plywood and chain-link fencing in his boldly artistic designs. The new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the striking Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum here in Minneapolis are two recent examples of his unique architectural vision. The figure of the fish—a fond remembrance of the giant carp his Jewish grandmother would leave swimming in the bathtub each week to use for her Friday-night gefilte fish—has been a recurring motif in Gehry’s work. He has used it for his whimsical lamps, in the design for a conference room, and as a notational element in his architectural drawings.