Philip Johnson Glass House
Last spring I had read about the Philip Johnson Glass House becoming open to the public. 10 people at a time, 1 1/2 hour tour. Sounded like a road trip to me. I asked my 3 girlfriends if they wanted to make a day of it. We try and get together as a group every 2 months so this would be an outing. I got online and made reservations for early Fall figuring the weather would be perfect and we’d all be back in the city groove after a long summer.
Weather wise, it could not have been a more perfect day. It takes about an hour to get up to New Canaan from the city. You park your car in the municipal parking lot and walk over to the visitor center where a bus takes you to the property.
The property consists of 47 acres. Philip Johnson purchased this property (minus four acres which was just recently purchased as an addition) in 1945. In essence, he purchased the property when he was roughly 38 years old with the vision to create this modern escape for himself and his partner, David Whitney. When he was 97, which was a year before he died, he created the visitor center where people would meet prior to going to visit his property. He has the whole thing laid out. Even gave away over 2000 pieces of art he had collected in the last years of his life. Fascinating actually. On one hand, the total admiration for what he created is the ultimate in modernism. On the other hand, no offense to the architects in the world out there, but most architects are a bit on the ego maniac side, did Johnson plot this out in order to leave his mark on the world. Food for thought.
The Glass House is a rectangle box that overlooks the property. The perfect spot. Simple and stark. A kitchen, a bathroom, a bed, a few closets, a kitchen and a fireplace. Radiant heating so that there are no lines to interfere with the landscape. You are inside yet you are outside in that house. Across from the house, in the same shape, is the Brick House. Guests stay here. There are some round windows in the back but nothing in the front which looks over the Glass House. Two rooms. One a bedroom with silk covered walls that slide to create a box with storage behind. The other room is a library. Between these two buildings is a round pool that coordinates with the round windows behind the Brick House. All architecturally simple yet brilliant.
As you enter the area of the Glass House, Brick House and pool is a round cement Donald Judd sculpture. Past the pool you walk over to the Painting Gallery. This was wild. A metal door that has been built under the ground. It could be a bunker. It is held up with metal and covered with mounds of dirt and grass. Structurally fascinating. Inside, an art gallery, filled with circular inventions that hang large fabric structures that art is hung on. You can turn the walls by hand to see other art work behind. Inside hanging are Frank Stella pieces. Although there is a Warhol that Warhol did of Johnson that is one of the best Warhol’s I have ever seen. Probably because Warhol actually did that piece vs. a lot of Warhol’s out there where you wonder was it done in the factory by a group of artists that he directed or did Warhol actually create this piece. This particular piece is similar to the famous Chairman Mao. Yet this one is in earth tones with lots of layering and texture. Very cool.
From there, you walk over a bridge to the Sculpture Gallery which is an interesting sparse building with different levels in side and a glass and steel ceiling. Almost has a feel of an old warehouse. Big sculptures from Gehry and Stella but my favorite of all was by Segal. A regular king size rod iron bed with two people warmly embracing on the bed who are made of plaster of Paris including the sheets and bed covers so in essence it completely flows white, the bodies and everything else. Incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t stop staring at it.
From the Glass House, overlooking the back is a lake that has a wooden pavilion built on it where the
ceilings are only 5’5" high that had gold embossed in the ceiling. Interesting. Behind that was a white sculpture that Johnson had designed as a nod to his friend. You can see it in the picture on the right.
When leaving the property there is the last house he built which is called the Da Monsta. Didn’t love this structure. Lots of weird angles. Sort of shouts out, I am an architect and see how I use angles.
I could go on and on but it is absolutely worth the visit. Putting ego aside, Johnson has left the public a monument to him, yes, but also a monument to modern design to be studied and revered for years and years to come.