Friday, June 17, 2016

The Glass House

Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden, currently on view at The Glass House through November 30th, 2016.
By Lesley Hauge and Sian Ballen
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


"The Glass House? I've always wanted to go there" is what people invariably say when you mention the house designed by Philip Johnson that became an icon of modernist architecture. It's turning that intention into action that is one of the goals of those dedicated to promoting and preserving this site, which is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Really, you have to go! Completed in 1949, the house itself, with no interior walls, is as airy and uncluttered as it seems from the exterior and perhaps because of the expanses of glass, does not have the depressing, lifeless feeling of preserved, historic houses. Apart from being asked not to stand on the carpet, nothing is roped off and visitors are free to move about the space. For $30,000 (tax deductible) you can even have a sleepover and experience, in the words of Johnson, "the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place."
Philip Johnson and David Whitney in The Glass House dining room, 2003. Photo: Todd Eberle.
The original 5-acre parcel of land was gradually expanded to 49 acres as Johnson and his partner, David Whitney bought up surrounding land and the whole is serenely beautiful. Only after some time spent wandering the property does one begin to sense the hand of the designer. Beyond the Glass House itself, second growth trees have been limbed so that the view of the pond below is perfectly framed—apparently Johnson used to sit in the house directing the grounds keeper via walkie talkie.

Looking up towards the house from the pond, those same trees seem to be as carefully placed as Greek columns. Apart from the path leading down to the pond, there are no other paths—Johnson didn't like them—and was of the opinion that people should make their own way around the 14 other structures on the property all of which are unexpectedly eccentric: the Ghost House, made out of chain link fencing, sits upon the foundations of a 19th century stone barn; the guest house is forbiddingly bunker-like and then there is "Da Monsta," inspired by his enthusiasm, later in life, of, wait for it, hip hop. Really, you have to go!
The Glass House entrance gate.
Da Monsta. Philip Johnson felt the building had the quality of a living thing.
Inside Da Monsta. John Chamberlain's The Archbishop, The Golfer, and Ralph, 1982-83, has been temporarily relocated to Da Monsta while the Sculpture Gallery undergoes a complete restoration.
In the background is Robert Rauschenberg's Empire II, 1961.
Da Monsta.
Nine sculptures in Da Monsta by Robert Morris.
Da Monsta.
A view of the Studio, a one-room workspace and library.
Inching towards the Studio, which is approached through a field of tall grass and wetlands.
The Studio was referred to by Johnson as a "happening" on the landscape.
"So I go to the study, which is a very small room with no water, no telephone, no loud speakers of any kind, just air conditioning, thank you very much." — Philip Johnson
The interior niche faces a small window that looks out at the nearby Ghost House.
Another view of the Study.
Primary lighting comes from a skylight in the conical dome.
Donald Judd's Untitled (1971) with the Study behind.
Judd's Untitled was the last element added to the Glass House site's historic core.
Philip Johnson acquired Untitled directly from Donald Judd in a trade for Frank Stella's Gur II (1967).
Philip Johnson and David Whitney acquired the land for the Glass House site over a fifty-year period. Eighteenth and nineteenth century stone walls, barn foundations, and mature trees were used as the "organizing principle" of the site.
Da Monsta and the Studio from a distance.
The Studio.
Da Monsta.
Popestead from below. Originally a barn, Popestead was converted into a house around 1920 and remodeled in 1996. It is used as an on-site office and staff residence.
The Ghost House. "Then I had the problem of what else to build. I was itchy and I wanted to build something. My view from the Studio is a restricted, narrow one, which is fine, but I didn't have any fancy object to look at. What was I going to do? Just sit there all day long looking at nature, tulip trees and oak trees? Sort of a dull American thing to do, to look at woods. It's stupid. So I said what do I do, what do I do, what do I do?" — Philip Johnson
Approaching The Glass House.
Invisible from the road, the house sits on a promontory overlooking a pond.
The house is 55 feet long and 33 feet wide, with 1,815 square feet.
The living room. Burial of Phocion depicts a classical landscape and was selected specifically for the house by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art.
The hearth area.
The bedroom. Most of the furniture came from Johnson's New York apartment.
Another view of the bedroom.
The dining room. Two Circus Women, by Elie Nadelman, is a small version of a marble sculpture that is in the lobby of the David H. Koch Theater.
The view of the pool and the hillside meadow from the front door.
Brendan Tobin, Manager of Buildings and Grounds, has been the site's caretaker since he was 16 years old when Johnson and Whitney were still making changes to the landscape.
Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden is on view through Nov. 30, 2016.
Narcissus Garden comprises 1,300 floating steel spheres.
Drifting in the pond, the spheres move with the wind and follow the pond's natural currents, forming a kinetic sculpture.
Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden.
Monument to Lincoln Kirstein, 1985.
Walking back up the hill to The Glass House.
Yayoi Kusama's Pumpkin, 2015, on the hillside meadow.
Pumpkin sits on a concrete sculpture footing where Ellsworth Kelly's Curve II (1973) was once installed.
"The landscape becomes by far the most important thing in the mind of the architect and it will be for the visitor." — Philip Johnson
The exterior of the Painting Gallery.
Michael Heizer's Dragged Mass (Iso/Planar/Section), 1983.
Three photographs of ancient ruins by Lynn Davis.
Currently on view in the Painting Gallery: Robert Rauschenberg: Spreads and Related Works.
The path from the Painting Gallery to the Sculpture Gallery.
Inside the Sculpture Gallery. The Gallery is in the midst of a complete restoration.
Completed in 1970, Philip Johnson designed the Sculpture Gallery to house his growing sculpture collection.
The restoration includes the replacement of a complete skylight roof system, the preparation and painting of structural steel, the replacement of a cold-cathode lighting system and refurbishment of electric heat units. Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope donated the glass ceiling.
The Glass House Summer Party 2016

"It doesn't feel like a benefit," said one partygoer of the fourth annual summer party held at the site of The Glass House, last Saturday. That surely counts as high praise for this elegant, sold-out event, which raised $475,000 and brought more than 400 guests to picnic around the pond or in the meadows and woodland of the serenely landscaped 49-acre New Canaan property.
 
 
Baskets prepared by The Schoolhouse at Cannondale.
 
A heavy, but shortlived, downpour only had the after effect of making the new-mown grass smell sweeter and for those who happened to be in the Glass House itself, an opportunity to experience what the house looks and feels like in the rain. For anyone caught short, there were black umbrellas stacked in bins here and there, one of the many touches that ensured things went smoothly. A fleet of Rolls Royce cars and Bentleys provided by Rolls Royce Motor Cars of Greenwich, took people from the parking lot to the site; a marquee housed the bar as well as the art works for the silent auction and Taittinger champagne was served in sleek melamine flutes, not those nasty plastic cups forced upon people at outdoor events. Lawn games including table tennis and a giant chessboard added to the relaxed atmosphere.
 
 
A fleet of Rolls Royce cars and Bentleys took people from the parking lot to the site.
 
  Guests, who seemed to mainly come from architecture and design backgrounds, were served their picnics in little wicker picnic baskets containing a packed lunch of fried chicken, a delicious fresh pea, courgette and beet salad, a farro salad, red grapes and a brownie. A DJ played horrible music—but most people, though unenthusiastic, didn't seem to mind all that much. One woman, in passing, did say, "Um … maybe next time … a harp?"

Down by the pond, groups of guests opted for birdsong instead of the thumping-techno-whatever-it-was and ate their picnics in the arched structure called "The Pavilion In the Pond," always intended by Johnson for entertaining outdoors. The pond itself had been transformed into an installation: "Narcissus Garden" by the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. Hundreds of reflective silver metallic spheres collected upon the surface or were shifted about by water motion and breezes, sometimes chiming as they knocked against one another. And for those of us with old knees but who wanted to get a better look from the pavilion itself, there was a gallant man called Mark specially drafted to give guests a hand up on to the platform. It might have been to avoid litigation but I prefer to think of it as proof of careful attention to detail worthy of Philip Johnson himself.
 
 
Jeffrey Renz and Irene Glasgow. Cole Akers and Andrianna Campbell.
Manish Vora and Maryellis Bunn checking out the silent auction powered by Paddle 8.
Alex Polier and Korey Duman.
Melody Rains and Mark Demos. Audra Kiewiet de Jonge.
Allison Sakerak, Lewis Pizano, and friend.
Scott Drevnig, Deputy Director, The Glass House. Stacy Bendet
Margaret Russell and Louise Camuto.
Kate Greer, Chloe, Margot, Liza Voloshin, and Mia Moretti.
Silke and Savas Tsitindis with Scott Drevnig and children.
Jennifer Hatley, Gina Wang, Berkeley Poole.
Playing ping pong Savas Tsitindis and son
Hilary Lewis, Elizabeth Han, Andrea Danese, Carem Subriet, Earl Crittenden, Alex von Bidder, and Tracey Hummer.
Guests gather near Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden.
Franklin Getchell and Murray Moss.
Polina Proshkina.
Joseph Ujobai, Kate Greer, and Margot.
Carol Cohen and Lucio Noto.
Manish Vora and Maryellis Bunn. Miya Ando and Shelter Serra.
Ghislain de Noue, Elena de Noue, Joya, Kim Donica, and Christa Carr.
Scott Fellowes, John Edelman, and Olivia Edelman.
DJ Mia Moretti
Margot performing the debut of "Glass."