PHILIP JOHNSON’S GLASS HOUSE

What’s one to say about the Glass House? It can be stated that it is a house made of glass, but that seems beyond obvious; or perhaps that is an iconic architectural piece, but considering it was designed by and to Philip Johnson, again, too obvious. There seems to be no way to describe the land and the collection that it houses in a way that lives up to being there and taking in its appearance and meaning, but one can try:

 Photo: Thomas Loof/Trunk Archive

Photo: Thomas Loof/Trunk Archive

I have very expensive wallpaper
— (P. Johnson)

Built in 1949, where once was a dairy farm, the 1728 sq. Ft house is, in Johnson’s words, a ‘pavilion to viewing nature.' To him, the main feature is not the (spectacular) constructions in the property, or the (fabulous) collection it holds, but the landscape that surround them. 

The plants in the vestibule, the stone walls with its teasing height, and Donald Judd’s circular sculpture invites guests to play a game of hiding and seek when entering the premises. Though, once you finally set your eyes on the house’s interior and its surroundings, it is pure magic. Hundreds of trees cover the 49-acre land, carefully trimmed to enhance the light and enrich the view.

Inside the house, the objects are minimal, merely functional, but naturally, beautifully designed. Two artworks are permanent residents of the living room: the Poussin painting, displayed on a metal board; and Elie Nadelman’s sculpture – a smaller version of a marble one, designed by Johnson himself in Lincoln Center. In the middle of the room, an ashtray and a malachite box currently share the tabletop with Jason Dodge’s A tourmaline and a ruby inside of an owl. The artwork is part of a sculpture-in-residence program, called Night (1947 – 2015), in tribute to a Giacometti’s piece owned by Johnson.

I like to see only one picture at a time
— (P. Johnson)

A few feet away, after crossing the great lawn garden and the slightly unstable bridge (designed to ‘shake people up, and create awareness of what they were about to experience’), you arrive at the grass-covered mound Painting Gallery. In its interior, three circular room houses rotating ‘poster-racks’ which allowed Johnson to display different combinations of pictures, in a very convenient way. These devices have the capacity to store 42 pieces at a time. Hidden behind those huge panels, there are Stellas, Warhols, Rauschenbergs, Schnabels, Shermans, and Salles.

As if it weren’t enough, the Glass House property also has a Sculpture Pavilion (with Stella, Nauman, Rauschenberg, Schnabel, Lord, Segal, Chamberlain, Morris and Lassaw pieces), the Lake Pavilion, a Brick House, a Library, and the Kirstein Tower (aka ‘staircase to nowhere’).

Although one might think that the place is just a mausoleum of his former owner’s life, this unfortunate one is wrong. Glass House is a living, breathing, contemporary collection. Through Night (1947 – 2015) – the program which displays one contemporary artwork at a time; and Da Monsta – which now hosts its first site-specific exhibition by E.V. DAY, the collection continues to be extremely relevant in our present time.

The items of Philip’s collection are, first of all, personal. The Warhol portrait, Frank Stella’s paintings, Michael Heizer massive sculpture. It all speaks directly to his history, and personal relationships. David Whitney, for instance, is a key-element to understand this exquisite collection. As Philip often referred to his lifelong partner, “David is my eyes and ears to buy/sell/trade art.”

It was through his relationships, and ability to gather artists, collectors, curators and attractive people in general, that Philip helped develop many artists’ careers – and MoMA’s permanent collection. Although Philip Johnson passed away years ago, he is still very much alive in his Glass House. And now, we are all welcome to be guests in his properties.