The Art Set: The Glass of Art, Architecture and Nature

Charlie behind a Michael Heiser in the Sculpture Gallery of The Glass House.
The Art Set: The Glass of Art, Architecture and Nature
Charlie Scheips

A couple weeks ago, I drove out to New Canaan, Connecticut for a reception at Philip Johnson’s famous Glass House. The occasion was a relaxing lawn party to celebrate New York-based artist E.V. Day’s installation entitled Snap! created at the last of the 14 structures conceived between 1949 and 1995 by the legendary architect and art patron. The bon-vivant provocateur Johnson, a towering figure in New York social and cultural life for decades, left an amazing gift to posterity.

Philip Johnson by Carl Van Vechten.
I met him several times socially thanks to my friendship with composer (and Johnson’s Harvard classmate) Virgil Thomson. He was smart, witty and charming, and had the air of someone who had been once very good looking — which, of course, was the case. Even in old age Johnson was distinctive looking with his bald head and jet-black round Le Corbusier-style eyeglasses.

The last time I saw him he was dining quietly with David Whitney in the dining room of the last incarnation of the Museum of Modern Art before the present regrettable (for me at least) Yoshio Taniguichi-designed incarnation of that unrivaled modern art collection took its place.

Johnson liked to hold court in his later years, usually lunching daily at his special table at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram’s Building (which he designed with Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe.) He and Virgil were part of a group at Harvard in the 1920s that basically brought (and helped propel) all forms of modern art, architecture and design in America.

Their circle included the Wadsworth Atheneum’s brilliant director during the 1930s and 1940s, A. Everett “Chick” Austin, architectural critic Henry Russell Hitchcock, ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein, the painter Maurice Grosser, art historian Agnes Mongan and collectors Edward Warburg and James Soby, to name a few (seriously, there were many more).
Decades later at The Glass House.
Johnson, a longtime patron of the Museum of Modern Art was also the museum’s first architecture curator before getting his own degree in the field that he so controversially was to influence in the ensuing decades.

After Johnson’s death in his sleep at age 99 at The Glass House in 2005 (followed soon afterwards by the death of his partner of 45 years David Whitney at age 66) this stunning property in the rolling hills of southern Connecticut was placed under the stewardship of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A little more than a year ago, Henry Urbach became Director of this treasure now known collectively as “The Glass House” and has set about to re-imagine the property as a place of “active cultural exchange” rather than merely some dusty historical site for students of architecture.
Artist E.V. Day with the limited edition print she created to benefit The Glass House. The Glass House Director Henry Urbach and E.V. Day in front of Da Monsta with the spider socks she presented him with.
Artists Kenny Scharf and E.V. Day. Ted Lee and E.V. Day in her installation at The Glass House.
In addition to E.V. Day’s installation, another novel new program is a “sculpture in residence” program entitled Night (1947-2015) imagined by Urbach and guest curator Jordan Stein. In the 1960s, a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti that had occupied a space on a table in The Glass House was returned to the artist’s studio for repairs, but was mysteriously lost. Earlier this year, Jordan and Urbach first installed a work by the late California artist Ken Price to inhabit the space left by the missing Giacometti. Currently a work by Tauba Auerbach occupies the space. This fall, the third installment in the program will be a work by an artist called Grouper of whom I am yet to be familiar.
E.V. Day's SNAP! at The Glass House.
Kyle De Woody, E.V. Day, and Beth De Woody at SNAP!
For her “interaction” with The Glass House, E.V. Day has taken on the last structure or “folly” if you will, built on the grounds that Johnson dubbed “Da Monsta.” It was originally conceived (inspired by a drawing by Johnson’s friend Frank Stella) as a visitor center (probably horrifying Johnson’s wealthy neighbors) for the property but it is now is used as a gallery for changing exhibitions.

Day was inspired in creating her project entitled “Snap!” after learning that Johnson had once observed Da Monsta’s non-linear “post modern” form as being “alive.” With that in mind, Day has ensnared the building with an enormous fire-engine red cording creating an monster scale spider-web with the exterior of the building wrapped as if were captured prey.
E.V. DAY works inside Da Monsta at The Glass House.
Inside the two small gallery spaces Day has presented five recent sculptures — Spinneret (a study for Spidey Striptease), Silver Mummified Barbie, Wet Net, Pollinator, and Bandage Dress (white with chain) that are presented in traditional fashion as art objects in entry gallery. The second, oddly-shaped gallery presents an installation of tight directional strings that ricochet from Da Monsta’s unique interior contours that remind me of Marcel Duchamp’s infamous 1942 Sixteen Miles of String installation at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York.

The added addition of Day’s eerie recording of her purring cat pulsating through the space is both calming and agitating as if, in Johnson’s notion, the building was indeed alive. You can sit on beanbag chairs and decide if it’s agitating or calming for you. I couldn’t decide.
The second gallery by E.V. Day in Da Monsta.
Marcel Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String installation at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York.
I arrived that afternoon just as people were arriving at the shingled house on the property’s edge, called Calluna Farm — once David Whitney’s private space on the estate. It is now home to Urbach as The Glass House’s director. Guests were treated on the open porch to a buffet of delicious snacks including three varieties of deviled eggs and a tasty fruit punch.

Among those making the journey included art maven extraordinaire Beth DeWoody and her protégé and art-obsessed daughter Grey Areas’ Kyle DeWoody, artist Kenny Scharf, art lawyer John Charles Thomas, the Whitney Museum’s Emily Russell, and dozens of others who ambled around property before assembling in front of Da Monsta for some remarks by the artist and Henry Urbach.
Philip Johnson designed Entry Gate at The Glass House.
Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House.
The succulent garden outside Calluna Farm at The Glass House.
Roving photographer Sandra Hamburg on the lawn outside Calluna Farm at The Glass House.
Afterwards we got the chance to visit not only The Glass House, but also view the separate Johnson-designed Painting Gallery (designed in 1965) and Sculpture Gallery (designed in 1970). This made me wax nostalgic about how post-war contemporary art was once displayed in the days before our present-day hypoallergenic museum spaces were transformed into corporate temples made to process the hoards of lightly-interested art viewers.

The Painting Gallery feature of a central court, were three imaginative and enormous rotating pin-wheel display panels (like slices of a cake). This was created in a space-saving manner to store and to view Johnson’s large and important art collection — some of which is still on view including Andy Warhol’s 1972 portrait of the famous architect.
From the central court Philip Johnson could view his art collection from their revolving kiosks.
Andy Warhol's 1972 portrait of Philip Johnson.
Two Rauschenberg's in the Painting Gallery of The Glass House.
View of The Glass House from the Painting Gallery.
One can squeeze around the periphery of these pinwheel structures and peek at various works by Rauschenberg, Salle and Schnabel, to name just a few. Other art from Johnson’s important collection was donated or sold following Johnson’s and Whitney’s deaths, but treasures still abound.

I love Johnson’s design for the Sculpture Gallery which is composed of simple white-painted brick walls, red brick flooring and glass skylights that seem to me the perfect setting for looking at major works by Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, John Chamberlain, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, Michael Heiser, George Segal as well as a grouping of ceramic sculptures by Andrew Lord. Mid-20th Century American art is seen in a setting both raw and elegant. It looks better than most art spaces now — Paula Cooper’s gallery in Chelsea comes to mind as a place where this aesthetic of display is still thankfully embraced.
The Sculpture Gallery at The Glass House featuring Nauman (bottom left), Stella (center), and Morris (bottom right).
So, if you want to spend a wonderful day with beautiful nature, art both modern and contemporary, and the architectural experimentation of one of America’s most original tastemakers, then make your way to The Glass House. You won’t be disappointed.

To visit The Glass House and to see E.V. Day’s installation up until November 30, you must make advance reservations. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.philipjohnsonglasshouse.org
Et in Arcadia Ego — A humming bird falls victim to The Glass House.
Photographs by Charlie Scheips and Sandra Hamburg.
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