Gehry on the Gulf Coast: Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Opens in Biloxi

Don’t blame George Ohr (1857-1918) for looking gobsmacked. The self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi” is celebrated in a new museum designed by another master of curves, Frank Gehry. Founded in 1994 and boosted by a 1998 capital infusion from Jerry O’Keefe, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was building its new home in Biloxi, Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Work on the 25,000-square-foot museum complex, which was decimated by the storm, recommenced thanks largely to deep-pocketed local casinos—hence the “IP Casino Resort & Spa Exhibitions Gallery”—and on Saturday, the Ohr-O’Keefe welcomed visitors to inspect the progress, now two-thirds complete. The $40 million project should be finished in 2012. Six pavilions, including a quartet of torqued steel gallery “pods,” are woven through a grove of ancient oaks. “We’re in the middle of trees,” Gehry said in an interview. “We couldn’t have continuous connectors or walkways. We didn’t have the money to connect everything, and you couldn’t make one big building because you have to tear down trees, so I came up with the ideas of these porches. So, if it rains, you run from porch to porch. And that seemed to be the model in Biloxi of the old house, with the porches, so that idea seemed to be kind of a local thing.” As for Ohr, Gehry is a fan of his “wiggly-woggly” work. “I was careful not to do anything that would mimic his pottery,” said Gehry, “Because it would look like a mimic.”