Touring Philip Johnson’s Glass House (photos)

Johnson's Desk Facing East

I visited one of the holy sites of American modernism on Wednesday, Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT, and I brought along my spiffy new camera to document what I saw.

For those interested in venturing to New Canaan themselves, I should mention there are different types of tours open to the public and be careful which you chose, as one bans photography, while another welcomes it.

The tour in general was well worthwhile, but I admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. I’m working on an essay about my thoughts on the significance of this modernist acropolis and it will appear on my new art blogazine, HYPERALLERGIC, that launches next month.

Until then, I wanted to share my whole set of photographs (53 images) and point out some curious details that piqued my attention during the tour, including:

Official GLASS HOUSE website

It’s also noteworthy that Johnson designed another “Glass House” across the street from his more famouse house, which the New York Times featured in their Style section earlier this year (Article + Slideshow).

You may also be interested to know that Johnson’s New York City apartment was sold in 2007 to a buyer who will–thankfully–work to preserve it (Article + Blog post).

4 responses to “Touring Philip Johnson’s Glass House (photos)”

  1. Can’t wait to read your assessment of Glass House. In summer 2008, my husband and I visited Glass House and the Rosenbach Museum & Library (which includes a tour of the Rosenbach’s home) within the same week. We found ourselves comparing the visitor experience at each site. Not surprisingly, the Glass House tour is designed for devotees who’ve come to commune with the primary numinous object, the house. Our guide offered fun anecdotes, dropped famous names, and went into detail about Johnson’s approach to developing the property and its buildings. It was presumed that people had working knowledge of art and architectural history. And, at $40 per person for the extended tour, which we took, they are probably right. I bet most do know what it is that they are coming to see and why.

    But for someone, like my husband, who is tagging along with the art lover (me) and wants to know, “What is this place, why does it matter, and who the heck is Philip Johnson,” such basic information was in short supply. In the visitors’ center, for example, one wall featured 24 monitors. Each played a different silent video, a “visual poem.” One shows the cards in Johnson’s rolodex. It’s a who’s who of the art and financial elite: Donald Judd, Jasper Johns, David Rockefeller, Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol, and so on. For my husband, it was as thrilling as a random page in the phone book. The names alone meant nothing. Coming in equipped with a bit more context, I loved the videos—but there was no material for visitors in need of a true orientation. Still, it was a gorgeous day and one didn’t need to know much to enjoy the bucolic setting.

    The Rosenbach Museum on the other hand presumed its visitors needed context. The house tour started in a room that featured 20 or so framed photos on a wall. As the guide told us about the Rosenbachs, their famous friends, noted authors whose works they collected, etc., she pointed to the relevant photo. Low tech but effective, and it was in keeping with the house’s yesteryear atmosphere. (The museum’s galleries in an adjoining, modernized townhouse featured touch-screen monitors. So, using photos in the orientation space was, I think, a considered choice.) Equipped with a basic sense of “What is this place, why does it matter, and who the heck are The Rosenbachs,” we both enjoyed this tour and learned more along the way. My husband admitted that he had tuned out early at Glass House because the guide’s patter made him feel like an outsider.

    Great photos. Catching the shadow play on artworks in the Sculpture Gallery was by far the most amazing part of the visit for me. Oddest moment was when two guests leaned back against a Stella in the underground painting gallery while listening to the tour guide, who chatted on without blinking an eye or issuing a reprimand.

    Hope they’ve been able to deal with the preservation issue confronting Brick House; it was closed during our visit for renovation, which was disappointing.

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