Celebrity Grave | Frank Gehry’s World Cup of Hockey Trophy
Bold art always invites a backlash. World class architect Frank Gehry knows a lot about this.
Gehry has a commitment to taking risk, and he understands criticism comes with the territory. “If you show any kind of architecture in early stages that represent anything outside the norm they get clobbered,” Gehry said in 2012 “because people say, ‘Well, you can’t do that,”
His work at the edges of commercial design has made him the most famous architect in the world, but his creative risks have also lead to public embarrassment.
In 2004 Gehry was commissioned by the organizers of the World Cup of Hockey to update design of their championship trophy. The original trophy looked like cheesy corporate hood ornament, and Gehry was hired to build prize befitting of the 21 century. For Gehry, Toronto-born and lifelong hockey fan, the pressure was on.
“I had no idea of what I was getting myself into,” Gehry confessed during a press conference at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. “We only just made the deadline by the skin of our teeth. But I’m thrilled to be part of this.”
Leading up to the project, Gehry was at the top of his fame. His 1997 curving titanium design for the Guggenheim gallery in Bilbao Spain, was an undisputed triumph. Critic Paul Goldberger celebrated the it saying “The building blazed new trails and became an extraordinary phenomenon. It was one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.”
Gehry seemed like a safe choice for the redesign. After all, he was the most famous architect at the time. However, when the trophy was unveiled. Dead silence followed.
Journalists were confused. Tradition-obsessed hockey fans were aghast.The trophy was not what they expected. To begin with, it looked nothing like the Stanley Cup.
Online comments mocked,“The Fruit goes in here, and it makes the freshest, tastiest, healthiest juice you’ve ever tasted! BUT THATS NOT ALL!!!..” Poor reviews where posted in Canada’s largest newspapers.
Gehry, a Toronto native and lifelong hockey fan himself, was aware the trophy looked nothing like the Stanley Cup. He approached the project with the same boldness that made the Bilao gallery look nothing like a conventional home for art. He offered a minimalist silver cup, embedded in a multi faceted translucent base. The chosen materials represented, obviously, the metal blades of the hockey skates cutting through the ice. The silver cup was removable and each year, the names of the winning players would be engraved on the cup and embedded in the glacier-like holder, preserving the names for all time.
Gehry handled the reaction to the design with grace. “I can tell you don’t like it,” Gehry joked. No one was laughing. Bravely, Gehry’s patrons stood by him. Ken Jaffe of the NHL and the WCH Organizing Committee said Gehry “gladly accepted the assignment and vigorously developed a great looking icon for the game.” No changes were made to the design.
The trophy unveiling was a failure. Had Gehry decided to play it safe, he could have designed a traditional-looking trophy and had a more pleasant press conference. But doing so would have disappointed his real fans, the people who love him because takes risks. As marketer Seth Godin would say, “If you cater to normal, you will disappoint the weird.”