The Glass House Blog

Six Panels: Al Taylor (May 31 – July 15, 2014)


Six Panels: Al Taylor May 31 to July 15, 2014

Six Panels is a new series of exhibitions organized by guest curators in the Glass House Painting Gallery. When the Glass House was the private residence of Philip Johnson and David Whitney, the gallery had an active life as new works were acquired and displayed. Building upon this legacy, Six Panels — named for the gallery’s unique display system — inaugurates the Painting Gallery as a site of temporary exhibitions for the public.
The first exhibition in this series presents Al Taylor (1948 – 1999), an artist whose work Johnson and Whitney collected and knew well. Six Panels: Al Taylor is organized by Robert Storr, a former Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art who worked closely with Johnson and Whitney. 

Taylorism: Lyrical Loopiness and Canny Uncanniness

Al Taylor had a singular knack for making something out of nothing. Of course “nothing” doesn’t exist. Everything is something, and the best artists can take the most meager of means and give them form while imbuing them with substance. But only the best are capable of performing such alchemical feats — and, in the present context, we should consider underlining the prefix “al” while capitalizing the “A”— that is to say, the magic of transforming base matter into aesthetic gold.

Taylor’s mentor Robert Rauschenberg was a past master at the same sort of conjury, and much of the power of his work emanates from the fact that Rauschenberg never gilded a lily, much less a package wrapper, torn magazine photo, shoe, hat, stuffed bird, or any of the found objects and images he incorporated into his work. Rather, he let twentieth-century culture speak in its own vernacular and taught the public to find beauty in the 24-karat “thingness” of the least of things.

Whereas Rauschenberg was an omnivorous scavenger and hoarder, Taylor was the most discriminating and formally economical of recyclers. As exemplified by the works in this exhibition, the ready-made predicates of Taylor’s art range from cardboard tubes to tin cans (Warhol went for the graphics of Campbell’s Soup, Taylor for the ridged shape of its containers), to broom handles, to fishing net floats, to novelty shop collectibles such as plastic shrunken heads. Those heads are among the comparatively rare instances of explicitly figurative, much less overtly Pop elements to be found in his palette of materials. And I use the term “palette” intentionally, since the color of a painted broom handle or the given tones of the scrap lumber Taylor redeployed and sometimes repainted were all factors in the carefully considered spectrum of his sculptures.

Trained as a painter at the Kansas City Art Institute in the late 1960s before moving to New York in 1970, Taylor contributed to a long tradition of painterly innovation in sculpture that started at the beginning of the twentieth century with Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and the Russian Constructivists, notably Vladimir Tatlin, with whose wall reliefs Taylor’s own resonate sympathetically. By contrast, though, Taylor was unconcerned with revolutionizing the world by means of art, but concentrated instead on shifting our vantage point on the commonplaces of the world as it is so as to gently destabilize everything we are inclined to take for granted, including gravity.

Innate whimsicality and formal wit, so Taylor shows us, can be just as metamorphic as programmatic single-mindedness. Likewise, “bricolage” — a French word for making things up as you go along from the resources at hand or, in simple English, “tinkering” — is as fertile a basis for engendering fresh art as the “will -to-form” expressed in “media-specific” terms long advocated by “mainstream” modernism. Moreover, impish charm can be as subversive as argument — often more so — just as the self-effacing trickster is at times a more reliable guide to existential absurdity than the grimly determined hero or antihero — and often more so.


Al Taylor. [no title], 1987

Taylor was both a deft tinkerer and a sly trickster. Take his untitled relief of 1987 that when confronted head-on from a distance appears to be a conventional abstract construction mounted on a relatively small support but, when approached up close or seen from an angle, reveals itself to be a zigzagging amalgam of various lengths, widths, and colors of wooden dowel that jut far out into the room from its simple plywood backboard like a sprung Jack-in the-Box eager to “get in the face” of the unsuspecting viewer, or, without there being anything overtly representational about the piece, like the very long arm of a party guest waving a lighted cigarette.

Taylor’s floor-bound, hence differently invasive “Pet Stain Removal Devices” (1989 – 1992) — of which Black Piece (for Étienne-Jules Marey) (1990) is a puddling cousin — are similarly unhousebroken. Dedicated to the French scientist who, along with English inventor Eadweard James Muybridge, pioneered the techniques and uses of sequential photography, this stepped or terraced sculpture seems to record a splash in cascading stages. And, given the spontaneity of its structural elaboration and the apparently unstoppable spread of the black enamel, one is tempted to hike up one’s trouser cuffs or the hem of one’s skirt to avoid contamination.


Al Taylor. Black Piece (for Étienne-Jules Marey), 1990

Other works are more sober in their abstraction, but the essence of their articulation is no less a product of visual play. The untitled cardboard tube variations of 1987 with which this show opens are a marvelous demonstration of some of the many permutations to which an ordinary manufactured form can lend itself. Who has not, at one time or another, toyed with a toilet paper roll after the last sheet is gone, bending it or pulling apart its coiled laminates? But who, other than Taylor, has thought to create such wonderfully syncopated volumes by “deconstructing” such a throwaway item. The Spanish Cubist Juan Gris famously said that while Cézanne had made a cylinder out of a bottle, he aimed to make a bottle out of a cylinder — or words to that effect. Taylor takes a cylinder, slices it like a sausage, unravels it like a rope, and juxtaposing the fragments, utterly reconfigures it like a jeweler working in perishable pulp rather than precious metals.

Taylor was expert at freeing mundane objects from their given identities and settings — tin cans from the pantry shelf, bicycle wheels from the pavement — and suspending or cantilevering them into weightlessness, like so many untethered bits of flotsam and jetsam floating free inside a space capsule. Distill (1988) has this quality, as does Untitled (Night Lessons) (1993), though the wooden armature of the latter is partially anchored to the wall. Exactly where on the wall other reliefs are placed becomes their defining characteristic. Low Fat (1995) sticks out such that it could trip an oblivious passerby, or at least bark at their ankles or calves. Upper Case (Bern) (1992) tips down from on high like a surveillance mirror, except that the plain plywood face of the relief reflects nothing and no one besides the gallery goer is watching. Station of the Cross (1990), Untitled (Mapplethorpe Pc.) (1986), and related pieces hew more closely to traditional modernist concerns but display an improvisatory verve and linear animation that is unique to Taylor’s work.


Al Taylor. Odd/Even, 1989

For their part, Untitled (Mapplethorpe Pc.) and Station of the Cross redraw, reconfigure, and remodel ambient space, even as the pressure plates of the austere Upper Case (Bern) and kindred pieces such as Untitled (1987) reshape it, and the long arm of the work with no title and the festive Layson a Stick (1989) probe and enliven it. For its part, Shrunken Heads with X-Ray Vision III (1993) hovers disturbingly, but also comically, just above eye level, metaphorically miniaturizing the spectator’s head while calling into question the relative intensity of his or her gaze—is he, is she, or are we gifted with X-ray vision? It also links Taylor to the Funk sensibility that has long thrived West of the Hudson even as it obliquely, teasingly evokes Bruce Nauman’s many beleaguered hanging heads. To be in the company of all these ambiguously assertive presences is to be enveloped in a linear, planar, and chromatic “happening” that prompts participation via one’s own forward, backward, and sideways movement.

Taylor’s prodigious talents with a pencil and a brush have much the same effect in two dimensions as his sculptures have in three. To enter into his drawings — for that is what looking at them entails — is to be caught up in an antic conjugation of charged strokes, bold marks, and subtle delineations that coalesce in the suggestion of expanding and contracting volumes frequently shadowed by rich washes and variously broad or attenuated currents of dilute ink or watercolor. These graphic forces attract and hold the stationary glance only to throw it off-balance. The experience of such pleasurable tipsiness and the equally pleasurable effort it requires to re-establish an elusive compositional equilibrium is what makes his work so memorable. In Taylor’s pictorial universe there is no standing still, indeed no fixed contour without latent flux, no void without the potential for a sudden infusion of palpable form. Everything about his works on paper, like everything about his sculpture, converges on the tipping point between eidetic coherence and dissolution, knitting and unspooling, becoming and coming apart. Scrutinizing Taylor’s drawings is like watching a card shark in action perform serial feats of prestidigitation, dealing at will from the top, bottom, and middle of the draftsman’s deck with such dexterity that one is convinced his every spontaneous move, his every trick must have been rehearsed a thousand times, and yet, one after the other, they remain mesmerizingly impromptu.


Installation view of Six Panels: Al Taylor.

Finally, it must be stipulated that this selection of Taylor’s work should not be regarded as a systematic survey or art historical summary of his prolific output. After all, the venue was not designed by Philip Johnson — its resident architect — as a museum but rather as a site for intimate delectation. Accordingly, this presentation should be approached as a sampler whose sole purpose other than providing immediate delight is to tantalize those familiar or unfamiliar with Taylor’s achievement and to inspire them to want more. Nevertheless, as the first exhibition in this uniquely conceived private viewing room since Johnson’s death, it is also a tribute to his partner David Whitney, who was an early and steadfast fan of the artist. To that extent, choosing Taylor as the initial focus of the exhibition series “Six Panels” is a salute to both men.

– Robert Storr, 2014

Robert Storr is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale School of Art. He was formerly Senior Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, where in 1996 he co-organized From Bauhaus to Pop: Masterworks Given by Philip Johnson. In 2002 he was named the first Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He has also taught at the CUNY Graduate Center, the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, the Rhode Island School of Design, Tyler School of Art, New York Studio School, and Harvard University. He has been a frequent lecturer in this country and abroad. From 2005 to 2007 he was Director of Visual Art for the Venice Biennale, the first American invited to assume that position. The exhibition he organized at David Zwirner in the Fall of 2013 to celebrate the centenary of Ad Reinhardt was voted “Best Show in a New York Commercial Space” by the American Section of the AICA (Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art).

Photographs by Ron Amstutz.

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Don’t miss the peony gardens in full bloom at the Glass House–book your tickets for May landscape tours now!


Special Landscape Focus Tours

Focus tours delve into specifics of the tour topic, including special access and alternate paths. Focus Tours are intended for guests interested in learning more about a key element of the site or for those looking to see the Glass House through a new perspective.

Landscape + Gardens | This tour changes seasonally to take advantage of the best viewing of David Whitney’s peony garden and New England’s gorgeous fall foliage. Explore expanded access to the Glass House campus, as you walk up and down the steep slope for close-up views of the Pond Pavilion (1962) and Kirstein Tower (1985) and discuss the history, design, flora and fauna of Johnson’s 47-acre curated landscape. Learn to identify the English and French landscape influences, Johnson’s Midwestern farming roots and his relationship with the historic New England countryside and stonewalls. View the trees the National Trust has deemed landmark-worthy and learn about David Whitney’s inventive succulent and peony gardens.

Learn more about landscape, art, and architecture focus tours, and reserve your tickets at

Photos from past seasons at the Glass House.

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To view more images of the peony garden at the Glass House, visit:

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One of the most important homes in America needs you

Dear Friends of the Glass House,

The Glass HouseThe Glass House is approaching the end of an exciting season with the introduction of many new programs, part of a strategic initiative I like to refer to as Glass House 2.0. The Glass House of Philip Johnson and David Whitney was known as “the most sustained cultural salon the United States has ever seen.” Glass House 1.0 represented the first five years of the house’s public life as a National Trust Historic Site and house museum. Glass House 2.0 aims to recapture the site’s earlier legacy as a unique cultural center, a laboratory for the presentation of new works and ideas.

This year we launched an exhibitions program with two shows: Frank Stella: Scarlatti Kirkpatrick and Night (1947-2015) and welcomed over 13,000 visitors to the site. We also inaugurated a fresh flowers program, bringing new life to the interior of the Glass House. In the coming seasons, we will develop more ambitious projects, and are currently exploring new programs and activities that will strengthen the liveliness and relevance of our special site. Educational programs continue to take center stage, as we host monthly Conversations in Context, Glass House Conversations, and think tanks both on site and in the field, including our first participation in this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. In time, we hope to add site-specific initiatives including residency programs, performances, and scholarly and community gatherings.

The Brick HouseIn addition to urgent needs, we are still working to raise funds to restore the Brick House, which has remained closed for the last five years, as well as make necessary repairs to the Sculpture Gallery roof. The Glass House is a preservation-based organization, and its 14 buildings, world-class art collection and 49-acre landscape demand ongoing maintenance.

To maintain our role as an important cultural asset and site of international significance, we need your support. Please help with a generous year-end donation. We welcome your support at every level.

Donate Now

If you would like to speak to a Glass House representative about your donation, please contact Scott Drevnig, Director of Development, at 203-594-9884 x33335, or

James WellingAs a thank you for a donation of $2,500 or more, we are pleased to send you a signed copy of the James Welling: Glass House hardcover book. This book features mesmerizing images by one of the world’s eminent photographers.

We have an exciting new year in the works, filled with a vibrant and diverse range of exhibitions and programming. Thank you in advance for your care and support of the Glass House. We have a special place and an incredible team serving as its stewards.

Warm regards,


Henry Urbach




Filed under: Conversations in Context, Educational Partnership, Exhibitions, Glass House Conversations, Message from the Director, Preservation in Action, Tours + Programs, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator + Head of Modern Art at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hosts a Glass House Conversation

What is it that intrigues an architect about the work of a sculptor and what is it about architectural forms that engage a sculptor’s practice?

Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron, senior curator and head of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Join us for an online Glass House Conversation hosted by Stephanie Barron, senior curator and head of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), going on now through December 23 at

Over the past three years organizing Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective for LACMA I’ve thought a great deal about the intersection between architecture and sculpture.The question of presentation and architectural design was quintessential, and I turned to Price’s longtime friend and admirer, architect Frank O. Gehry, to design the show, which allowed me a window through which to observe this intersection.

The work of a number of artists provoke a compelling examination of the intersection and boundaries between architecture and sculpture. Whether it is Richard Serra’s large, undulating ribbons of steel or the intimate, organic, ceramic sculptures of Ken Price, these convergences invite serious considerations about their relationships to architectural forms.

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Rebecca Allan, painter and Head of Education at the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture Hosts a Glass House Conversation

Succulent Garden at The Glass House

Rebecca Allan

Rebecca Allan

Join us for an online Glass House Conversation hosted by Rebecca Allan and inspired by The Glass House landscape. Allan is a painter and Head of Education at the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture in New York City, and she also participated in the Education Think Tank held at The Glass House on July 18, 2012, her visit inspiring the question:

The impulse to shape, to restrain, or to allow nature to remain “unsupervised” is often present in the working practices of creators across various disciplines. The Glass House occupies a richly varied landscape whose features encompass natural woodlands, a small lake, and lush fields of grass as well as unique plantings and gardens that provide a counterpoint to and container for its 14 architectural structures.

Johnson’s life partner David Whitney, an innovative gardener, designed a remarkable Succulent Garden, enclosed by a pink granite cube inspired by a small pencil drawing by Kasimir Malevich. The chain link walls of Johnson’s Ghost House contained a stand of Oriental lilies. Parts of the property’s second-growth forest were cleared to create views that featured follies, pavilions, and architectural elements.

How does your practice reflect, contain, or examine aspects of wildness?

Share your thoughts–join the discussion, going on now through Sunday, September 23, at!

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New Program Reintroduces Fresh Flowers to The Glass House, Generously Supported by Architectural Digest Magazine

Flowers at The Glass House

Flowers at The Glass House, 2003. Photo courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For the first time since Philip Johnson lived in his iconic Glass House, fresh flowers will be on display there, bringing new life to the building’s interiors. The Glass House has launched a program, announced by Director Henry Urbach, to reintroduce fresh flower arrangements, which have not been seen in the house since Philip Johnson’s and his partner, David Whitney’s, passing in 2005. Local designer Dana Worlock will reinterpret Whitney’s original plant selection, adding and adapting to suit the specific environmental conditions and seasonal changes of the Glass House.

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Frank Stella Painting from the Glass House Collection Included in New Exhibition at L&M Arts

Philip Johnson Glass House, Painting Gallery, © Harf Zimmermann. Painting on View at right is Averroes (1960) by Frank Stella.
Paintings in the Philip Johnson Glass House Painting Gallery, from left to rightPhilip Johnson (1972) by Andy Warhol, Brzozdowce I (1973) by Frank Stella, Konskie III (1971) by Frank Stella, Tetuan II (1964) by Frank Stella, and Averroes (1960) by Frank Stella.
Photo © Harf Zimmermann.

The Frank Stella painting, Averroes (1960), from the Philip Johnson Glass House permanent collection is currently on view as part of the exhibition Frank Stella: Black, Aluminum, and Copper Paintings at L&M Arts gallery in New York.

Art critic Roberta Smith of the New York Times recently described the exhibition in her review Laying the Tracks Others Followed, Frank Stella’s Early Work at L&M Arts:

It features 13 of the adamant, quietly pulsing, exceedingly frontal paintings that Mr. Stella made in New York in the three and a half years after he arrived here in the summer of 1958, fresh out of Princeton.

This amounts to more early Stellas than have been exhibited in New York since the survey of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970. They provide a heady sense of the first few fastest-moving years of his development, when he helped bring the Abstract Expressionist chapter of New York School painting to a close and lay the foundation for Minimalism.

Smith goes on to describe Stella’s Aluminum series, including Averroes:

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Glass House Focus Tours: Architecture + History

Glass House Focus Tours: Architecture + History

2-hour guided tour | $45 per person | Select Wednesdays at 2:30pm


Focus tours delve into specifics of the tour topic, including special access and alternate paths. Focus Tours are intended for guests interested in learning more about a key element of the site or for those looking to see the Glass House through a new perspective.

Architecture + History | Explore the history and theory, materials and technologies, influential architects, and preservation challenges of Modern architecture through the lens of the Glass House campus. Visit interiors of the Glass House (1949), Painting Gallery (1965), Sculpture Gallery (1970), da Monsta (1995), and access (through a field of tall grass) the Library/Study (1980), housing Johnson’s architectural library spanning Schinkel to Hadid and overlooking the Ghost House (1984).

For more information on this and other Glass House tours visit

The 2012 Glass House public tour season runs from May 2 – November 30, 2012 (closed Tuesdays). Tickets are available now!  Advance reservations are highly recommended.  Tickets by phone, please call 866.811.4111.

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Happy Birthday, David Whitney!

David Whitney

On this day in 1939 David Whitney (1939-2005) was born in Worcester, MA.

David Grainger Whitney (1939-2005) was an accomplished curator and editor, an avid art collector and gardener, a loyal friend to many artists, an art adviser to New York’s powerful elite, and an advocate of contemporary art.  In contrast to his outspoken partner of forty-five years, Philip Johnson, Whitney was an éminence grise, an art world insider who preferred to maintain his privacy.  Whitney’s circle of friends included Modern masters such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Gehry, Frank Stella, Ken Price, among others.  Whitney described the development of these relationships simply as “I became close to these people who are now all gods.  But they weren’t then.”  However, from a historical perspective, this attests to his keen eye for emerging talent, as well as his deep understanding of and appreciation for the creative mind and artistic expression.

Read more of the first-ever David Whitney biography on our website at

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Glass House Focus Tours: Art + Influence

Glass House Focus Tours: Art + Influence

2-hour guided tour | $45 per person | Select Wednesdays at 2:30pm


Focus tours delve into specifics of the tour topic, including special access and alternate paths. Focus Tours are intended for guests interested in learning more about a key element of the site or for those looking to see the Glass House through a new perspective.

Art + Influence | Philip Johnson and David Whitney played a significant
role in cultivating and commissioning the work of world-renowned creative talent that defined an era: enjoy deeper discussion and close observation
of the art works of the Glass House campus, including one of the world’s foremost collections of pieces by Frank Stella. Artists include Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Cindy Sherman, David Salle, Lynn Davis, Julian Schnabel, Michael Heizer, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Andrew Lord and John Chamberlin. Explore the personal relationships between the Glass House, these artists, and the founding and development of The Museum of Modern Art.

For more information on this and other Glass House tours visit

The 2012 Glass House public tour season runs from May 2 – November 30, 2012 (closed Tuesdays). Tickets are available now!  Advance reservations are highly recommended.  Tickets by phone, please call 866.811.4111.

Filed under: Tours + Programs, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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