Philip Johnson designed the Painting Gallery (masonry and earth berm construction, 3,778 square feet) to house the collection of large-scale modern paintings that he and David Whitney collected throughout their lifetimes. It is home to twenty-three large-scale paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. Most notable are eight works by Frank Stella, created from 1960 to 1973 (details on site conservation efforts here). The paintings reflect Johnson’s and Whitney’s commitment to the “new” and recent trends in contemporary art from 1980 to 2001.
In the mid-to-late 1990’s, both Johnson and Whitney began to add works on paper to their collection. Three toned gelatin silver prints by Lynn Davis and two large color prints by Cindy Sherman hang in the Painting Gallery, as well as a large mixed media print by Michael Heizer. Heizer’s Dragged Mass (Iso/Planar/Section) was given to by the artist to Whitney in 1985, after organizing a same titled exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art earlier that year.
A highlight of the collection is a nine-panel Portrait of Philip Johnson (1972) by Andy Warhol.
The exterior of the Gallery is a grass-covered mound, topped by a low parapet with a monumental stone entrance. Johnson claimed the Treasury of Atreus (c. 1250 B.C.), a tomb located in Mycenae, Greece, was his inspiration. The stone flanking the entranceway is red sandstone. While certainly a reference to the antique, Johnson designed similar underground bermed structures in 1965 such as the Geier House in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The parapet traces the Painting Gallery’s interior plan of three circles of various diameters. Circular stools inside the Gallery designed by Poul Kjaerholm echo this motif. In each of the circular rooms, there is a rotating “poster-rack” for displaying two paintings per spindle. Although Johnson preferred to see six works at a given time, this device allowed for storage of 42 paintings. Originally, Johnson thought this could be a model for a small museum, but later realized that security issues would make this arrangement impractical.