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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2014 Glass House tour tickets available now! New this season: self-guided tours

2014 Glass House Tour Tickets Now Available

The Glass House, Photo by Robin Hill

Photo by Robin Hill

Tours of the Glass House will run between May 1 – November 30, 2014
2014 program and exhibition announcements coming soon.

New this season: self-guided tours

Self-guided tours at the Glass House will be available on select dates and offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience the Glass House campus and its pastoral landscape at their own pace. In addition to the permanent art collection and temporary exhibitions, visitors enjoy access to seven structures designed by Philip Johnson, including the Glass House, the Painting Gallery, the Sculpture Gallery, Da Monsta, and the Library, as well as the lower landscape’s Pond Pavilion and Lincoln Kirstein Tower. Glass House guides will be available to provide historical background and answer questions.

Buy Tickets

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Glass House Readings with Phyllis Lambert + Mark Lamster, Sunday, October 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Glass House


Philip Johnson, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Phyllis Lambert in front of an image of the model for the Seagram building, New York, 1955. Gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 × 9 3/8 in. Photographer unknown. Fonds Phyllis Lambert, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal. © United Press International.


Co-hosted by The New Canaan Library at The Glass House

Phyllis Lambert will read from her new book, Building Seagram

Sunday, October 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Glass House Readings brings notable authors and intellectuals to the Glass House to read from a new work. The guest author and audience will also walk the site and enjoy refreshments. Visitors begin and end at the Glass House Visitor Center, located at 199 Elm Street directly across from the New Canaan train station. Space is limited; reservations are required. Tickets $75.00, price includes admission and a signed copy of Building Seagram.

Architect, photographer, lecturer, historian and critic of architecture and urbanism, Phyllis Lambert is Founding Director and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal. Lambert first made architectural history as the Director of Planning of the Seagram Building in New York (1954-58). She is recognized internationally for her contribution in advancing contemporary architecture, together with for her concern for the social issues of urban conservation and the role of architecture in the public realm. Lambert has pioneered and contributed to publications on photography and architecture, architecture and landscape, conservation, and the urban history of Montreal. Recently published, Building Seagram is a cultural history of architecture, art, urban regulations and real estate, as well as conservation and stewardship in New York City, 1950-2000.

Mark Lamster

Mark Lamster

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and associate professor in the architecture school at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is currently at work on a biography of Philip Johnson, to be published by Little Brown. A contributing editor to Architectural Review and Design Observer, his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many national magazines.

For more than a decade, Lamster served as an editor at Princeton Architectural Press, in New York. Prior to that, he was an editor at George Braziller, the distinguished publisher of illustrated books. He is the author of numerous books, including Master of Shadows (2009), a political biography of the painter Peter Paul Rubens, and Spalding’s World Tour(2006), the story of a group of all-star baseball players who circled the globe in the 19th century. His research papers from that book are available at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown. He holds degrees from Johns Hopkins and Tufts universities.

For tickets please visit or call the Glass House

199 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT  06840 | Phone: 203.594.9884


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Happy Birthday, Philip Johnson!

ArchDaily 7.8.2013

Image via ArchDaily

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was born today, July 8, 1906, in Cleveland, Ohio. In celebration of the architect’s birthday, ArchDaily shares an overview of Johnson and his work: Happy 107th birthday Philip Johnson!

Learn more about Johnson and plan your visit to the Glass House at!

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Alastair Gordon Hosts an Online Debate: Buckminster Fuller vs. Philip Johnson

Buckminster Fuller swinging from the Woods Hole (Mass.) dome in 1955, while it was still under construction.

Buckminster Fuller swinging from the Woods Hole (Mass.) dome in 1955, while it was still under construction.

Join our latest online Glass House Conversation hosted by critic, curator, and filmmaker Alastair Gordon. He poses the question:

I’m at work on a book about Buckminster Fuller and recently came across a statement by Philip Johnson about Fuller.

“Bucky Fuller was no architect,” said Johnson. “We all hated him because he really thought the profession was unnecessary.” Fuller, it should be noted, referred to architects as “exterior decorators” and frequently dismissed their role.

The Glass House, designed by Johnson, and the geodesic dome designed by Fuller, seem to be absolute opposites, but it can be argued that they are both Utopian artifacts coming from radically different perspectives.

I’m curious about this apparent rift between these two contemporaries and leaders in design.

In your opinion, who left a bigger imprint on culture and whose ideas are more relevant for the future of the planet? Buckminster Fuller or Philip Johnson?


Philip Johnson in front of the Glass House in 1949. Photo: Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

Philip Johnson in front of the Glass House in 1949. Photo: Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

So far the debate is tied, with great comments from Terence Riley, Joan Grossman, Bruce Dehnert and Elizabeth Thompson. Join the discussion, share your thoughts, and help break the tie! Post your comments now at!

*ag- head shot 2 edited-avatarAlastair Gordon is an award-winning critic, curator and filmmaker who has written regularly about art, architecture and the environment for many different publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Le Monde, Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, House & Garden and Dwell. He is the author of numerous critically-acclaimed books including Weekend Utopia, Naked Airport, Spaced Out, Wandering Forms, Qualities of Duration, Beach Houses: Andrew Geller, and Convergence. He is also co-founder and Editorial Director of Gordon de Vries Studio, an imprint that publishes books about the human environment.

You can read Alastair Gordon’s writing at

Glass House Conversations draws upon the legacy of Philip Johnson and David Whitney, who brought together people from many backgrounds to join the cultural dialogue of the 20th century. The Glass House extends this “salon “through Conversations in Context as well as Glass House Conversations, an online moderated public dialogue. Invited hosts post a question or debate topic and responders worldwide have up to two weeks to join the online conversation.

The Glass House, built between 1949 – 1995 by architect Philip Johnson, is a National Trust Historic Site located in New Canaan, CT. The pastoral 49-acre landscape comprises 14 structures, including the Glass House (1949), and features a permanent collection of 20th century painting and sculpture, along with temporary exhibitions. The tour season runs from May to November and advance reservations are required. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit or call 866.811.4111.

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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




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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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Join a Glass House Conversation on Play, Health + Well-being Hosted by Joyce S. Lee

The Fort Worth Water Garden, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, designed by architect Philip Johnson. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Emily E Cline

Joyce S. Lee

Joyce S. Lee

Join our current Glass House Conversation hosted by Joyce S. Lee, FAIA, LEED AP, former Active Design director at the New York City Department of Design and Construction, where she worked to develop the Active Design Guidelines, a manual that outlines strategies to combat obesity and chronic diseases through the design of healthier buildings, streets and urban spaces. The online Conversation is based on the question:

The Glass House was a weekend retreat for Philip Johnson and a place where he explored themes of play through the design of buildings and landscapes. Johnson and guests could interact with the environment by walking, strolling and climbing, as well as enjoy the view.

Today many designers, architects and urban planners are working to create spaces that encourage play, health and well-being. From my experience, employing the practice of evidence-based design opens up a productive and informative interdisciplinary dialogue with professionals from across the fields of science, medicine, design and culture.

What does it take to create beautiful, comfortable spaces that encourage play, health and well-being?

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