Contemplating Modernism

The Glass House, Philip Johnson. Completed in 1949.

Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City organized an exhibition titled “Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum” which exhibited the works of nearly two hundred invited artists, architects, and designers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modernist masterpiece. Most importantly, these artists were celebrating the void which has influenced countless of site specific art installations at the Guggenheim.

Like the artists, architects and designers who contemplated the void at the Guggenheim, a year ago I boarded a bus from Boston to Stamford, CT where I would catch a train to New Canaan, CT to contemplate  one of the most important icons of Modern architecture: the Philip Johnson Glass House.  After the long and exhausting bus ride (which was late to Stamford by the way), I missed my train to New Canaan and with less than 40 minutes until the beginning of my two hour tour of the House, I hopped on a 30 minute taxi ride to New Canaan (the next train to New Canaan did not leave until 2:45PM and my tour was scheduled for 2:00PM). I made it to the visitor center in downtown New Canaan with just ten minutes to spare! Phew! What a relief!

The Painting Gallery, completed in 1965.

Visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House proved to be an exhilarating experience in my exploration of Modern architecture. The tour was well organized and the guide was very knowledgeable on modernism, in particular on Modern Art as she was an artist herself.  At a cost of $45 for a two hour tour with photography allowed, I not only got to see the Glass House, but Johnson’s other architectural experiments in the 47 acre property surrounding the house. One of my favorites was the Painting Gallery which recalls the Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae) in its entrance, but nothing quite like it in the interior (judging from what the interior of the Treasury of Atreus looks like today as it may have been completely different around 1250BCE when it was constructed). Its soft and “sexy” interior and floor plan are visually stunning in contrast to the fortress like exterior of the Gallery.

Inside the Painting Gallery. Works by Frank Stella.

The connection between this blog on Boston, the Glass House in New Canaan and Philip Johnson is that Johnson had attended Harvard University graduating with a Bachelor’s in Architecture in 1943. While a student at Harvard he designed his own house now located in Cambridge, MA and his presence as an architect in the city of Boston is seen in the addition to the Boston Public Library and at 500 Boylston Street (the Post-Modern Palladian inspired skyscraper) which was featured on the television drama series Boston Legal.

As a student of life, art and architecture, a preservationist and a lover of Modern architecture, visiting the Glass House was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being in New Canaan was all I needed to take my breath away last summer let alone visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House.

(If someone knows or has a connection to the current owners of the Johnson house in Cambridge, please let me know! I’d love to see it up close instead of climbing up the stairs of the building across from it to get a peek).

The Lake Pavillion completed in 1962.

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