Friday, October 28, 2011
He who lives in a glass house.......
A few weeks ago, a friend and I finally went to visit Philip Johnson's glass house in New Canaan, CT. We were originally supposed to go in August, but hurricane Irene forced us to reschedule, for the best, I believe.
The weather was a beautiful early October day, slightly overcast, but a wonderful time to explore the grounds.
I was never the biggest Philip Johnson fan. To me, he appeared to be more a rich patron cheerleader than innovator, or great artist. He had amazing connections and forged a fantastic career of finding the next great architect while actively borrowing their style. He claimed he was inspired but at times, the appearance can be seen as copying.
Yet, after walking around his New Canaan estate, I was left with his sense of how much fun art and architecture can be. I loved how he had smaller buildings built on the grounds by different architects for different purposes. The art gallery and sculpture building were two of my favorites.
I saw a documentary on Johnson on Ovation (yes, there's that oddball channel again), that was filming him in his later years as he was working with Frank Gehry on a new building on the grounds. An aging Johnson was visibly perplexed with the structure and what ultimately the purpose was going to be. Yet, the camera captured how much joy, love and enthusiasm he still had for the process of creating and building. The structure ended up becoming a meditation/class room sort of thing, although probably by default. A funny thing is, some of the best pics came from either inside or outside the building.
Walking the grounds allows for a bit of fantasy projection. The main houses sit surprisingly close to the main road, which makes the grounds seem even more accessible to the rest of society.
The mind wanders to how wonderful life could be when you can buy a large chunk of land in Connecticut and place structures by famous architects which includes galleries that can house your extensive art collection by giants of the twentieth century. Plus, you can have many of your friends like Jacqueline Kennedy and Andy Warhol visit from the city. A very similar sensation to watching screwball comedies from the 30's is created. Wouldn't we all love to be as smooth as Cary Grant, drive around in a roadster, drinking without being drunk, a beautiful bombshell in the passenger seat, driving from one glorious party, where all the guests are witty without a thought for money?
Yet, that's unfair to Johnson's legacy. Yes, he grew up in a life of extreme of privilege which prepared him lead to an absolutely remarkable life. However, he did take that wealth, time and privilege to promote great ideas and people.
I do really love the PPG building in Pittsburgh and the effect it has on the skyline. I love the top of the AT&T building in midtown Manhattan. And yes, I loved my trip to the Glass House. I'm grateful for the opportunity to dream of what might have been and what, yet could always be.