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June 2007


FEATURES

Artful Combination
By Samuel T. Clover

FOR DECADES, PHILIP JOHNSON AND DAVID WHITNEY BROUGHT ART AND ARCHITECTURE TOGETHER AT THE GLASS HOUSE, NOW OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

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Philip Johnson made few changes to his iconic Glass House during the 55 years he lived there—first on weekends and then, towards the end of his life, full-time with his partner, the art collector and curator David Whitney. Visitors to the estate, now a National Trust Historic Site that opens officially to the public on June 23, can see the single-room interior exactly as Johnson left it, right down to the electric-coiled stove in the kitchen island, the Mies van der Rohe prototype furniture, the surprisingly small (full size) bed and the cylindrical brick room enclosing the toilet and shower, the only private space in the house.

But just as surprising as the architecture and furnishings—if not more so—is a 16th-century painting, Burial of Phocion, attributed to Italian painter Nicolas Poussin (or his school), which stands on an easel near the west wall, overlooking a man-made pond. (It's one of two artworks in the house; the other is Elie Nadelman's 1930 sculpture Two Circus Women.) That an architect synonymous with modernism would display a neoclassical landscape in such a prominent position seems strange until you learn that Johnson's close friend, Alfred Barr, Jr., founder of the Museum of Modern Art, chose the painting for the site and recommended the location where it now resides.

"It's interesting that the head of MoMA would have chosen such an idealized landscape," says Hilary Lewis, an architectural historian who worked with Johnson for 12 years and is now the Glass House's Philip Johnson Scholar. "But that's what the Glass House is—an idealized landscape."

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