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Trip Report Art and Architecture in Connecticut!

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I've been itching to go on a trip, but I haven't been able to manage yet. So instead, I took a short day trip to... Connecticut! I took Metro North to New Canaan to see Philip Johnson's iconic modernist Glass House.

To my surprise, it doesn't seem like anyone on Fodor's has written about it yet (nothing came up from a web search). So I figured that I'll post about it here just in case someone is interested in it.

Afterwards, I decided on the spur of the moment to visit Yale. I've been to Yale before, but I went specifically to see the Louis Kahn musuems and the Paul Rudolph architecture building.

And it turned out to be a great day!

Logistics from NYC

NYC-New Canaan r/t off-peak: $18.50, about 75 minutes (change at Stamford)
Stamford-New Haven r/t off-peak: $12.50 less than 1 hour

NYC-New Haven r/t off-peak would have been $28, and that takes less than 2 hours.

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    Built in 1949, this is one of the most iconic modernist houses. Philip Johnson donated it to the National Trust and spent most of his later years there until he died. The Trust opened the House to the public in 2007.

    There are two kinds of tours. I opted for the shorter 90-minute tour during which photography is supposedly not permitted. The longer 2-hour tour allows photography and encourages lingering. I asked the guide if the tour visits the same places, and she said yes.

    Visitor Center

    Since the train was more or less hourly, I arrived way too early with plenty of time to browse in the Visitor Center and watch some of the video loops. What I found most interesting were two on the connections of Philip Johnson and David Whitney. One loop featured Johnson's rolodex with a star-studded list of names (name any famous artist and he/she was probably in his rolodex). The other video loop featured postcards sent to David Whitney, Johnson's long-time companion, who died just a few months after he did. Among the postcards were quite a few sent by Andy Warhol. Whitney, by the way, has no connection to the Whitney family who founded the museum. He was also more than 30 years younger than Johnson, who died when he was, I think, 99.

    When the time came, we all got onto the van (13 seats for visitors) and went to the Glass House. Tours were sold out way in advance (though I bought mine just a few days ahead of time. When I was chatting with the guide later, she said that one couple had bought their tickets long before their baby was born, when the wife didn't even know she was pregnant). You definitely need a ticket to visit. Apparently earlier on the day of our visit, there were French tourists on bicycles trying to get a glimpse of the Glass House.

    Also I learned that New Canaan was actually fertile ground for modernist houses, being home to five Harvard-trained architects (commonly called the "New Cannan Five") and one architect trained at Yale. And our guide told us about the stone walls in New England. Apparently stone is very common in that area and so people gather them to build stone walls. They are remnants from the retreat of glaciers.

    Glass House Compound

    The Glass House, well, is much more than the Glass House. Johnson started by buying a few acres of land, but by the time he died, the grounds were a sprawling 47 acres. Our guide said that Johnson was very interested in landscaping. Also Johnson was very wealthy at a young age, as his father believed in giving inheritances away early so that the kids could enjoy their life while they could still do so (if all parents could be like this!). Johnson was given some Alcoa stock (a blue-chip aluminum company) and had servants even when he went to Harvard.

    At the entrance to the compound are two buildings. One is the Popestead, which was a colonial house bought by Johnson where his mother lived. The other was "Da Monsta," which is Johnson's last building in this compound built in the 1990s. Frank Stella, I think, was consulted on this building, so it is futuristic and looks like a late Stella sculpture (this could be something straight out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"). We visited Da Monsta at the end of the tour.

    Further on, down a gentle slope are two more buildings. One is Johnson's study. Apparently Johnson liked a bit of challenge, so there's no paved or walk path that leads to the study. Instead one needs to cut through glass. The other is Johnson's "playhouse" (I think the material is a fence-type material that came from Frank Gehry).

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    The Glass House & The Brick House

    Everyone has heard of the Glass House, but I've never heard of the Brick House. Yet before one arrives at the Glass House, one first comes across a concrete sculpture commissioned from Donald Judd (I was surprised, as I wasn't aware Judd did any concrete sculptures). The round sculpture with a hole in between is in slight disrepair, and apparently it wasn't cast quite properly as our guide said that the second truck that was supposed to come was delayed, so the concrete had started to set.

    To arrive at the Glass House, one takes a path of small pebbles. Johnson designed the Glass House for one person. The living area comprises carefully arranged furniture (including two Barcelona chairs) by Mies. Our guide said that Mies's daybed, now commonly referred to as the Barcelona daybed, was actually not in the Barcelona Pavilion. Instead Mies designed it for Philip Johnson. Within sight is a much faded, classical French painting by (the school of?) Poussin called "Burial of Phocion."

    Near one end is the sleeping area with the famous Bauhaus lamp on the bedside. Near the middle of the house was a circular pillar with a built-in fireplace that also cleverly conceals a bathroom.

    The "innards" of the Glass House comes from the Brick House, which I think houses a generator. The floor of the Glass House, I think, is heated in the winter time. Supposedly the Glass House is extremely warm in that period.

    The Brick House is also a guesthouse and the decor is less severe and more luxurious (our guide showed us a picture that shows Andy Warhol sleeping in a guestroom). We didn't get a chance to visit the Brick House, however. The Brick House has no windows on the side facing the Glass House, but it has a few round windows (like the ones you see on cruise ships) on the other side.

    The Glass House also overlooks another slope, at the bottom of which are a pond and a small pavilion with very low ceilings. Again we just admired the architecture from a distance and we didn't go there.

    Art Gallery

    Philip Johnson and David Whitney were avid art collectors (David Whitney went to Rhode Island School of Design and I think he was an art dealer at one point). Philip Johnson built an art gallery to house (a small!) part of his collection. The gallery has 48 (I think) rotating panels (sort of like the ones used to hang posters or, I guess, carpets) in a giant rolodex of sorts. On display were four works by Frank Stella, two by Rauschenberg and two by Julian Schnabel. (Bear in mind Johnson donated about 2000 works in MoMA, including the Jasper Johns "Flag.")

    The Stellas were instantly recognizable, but none of those was an early Black Painting that made Stella a household name. I didn't recognize the Schnabels. To me, Schnabel doesn't seem terribly fashionable these days.

    The light fixtures in the bathroom, I think, are by Walter Gropius, who taught at Harvard when Philip Johnson was a student there.

    On the side walls of the entry foyer were more art works. On one side was a work by Michael Heizer. On the other side are three instantly recognizable large, square, black and white photos by Lynn Davis, who collaborated with Johnson on a book.

    For the art gallery, Johnson used leftovers from the construction of an NYU Library (I think the reddish material must be from the Bobst Library). For the entrance, he paid homage to classical Greece and designed it after the famous structures in Mycenae (I think after the Treasury of Atreus, in this case).

    Sculpture Gallery

    A path and a slightly wobbly bridge (our guide admonished us to cross single file) leads to the sculpture gallery. But before the sculpture gallery was a sculpture by Julian Schnabel that looks like a gigantic tree trunk. Schnabel created the sculpture by casting the finished wood version in bronze.

    The sculpture gallery paid homage to Greece again, in a way, with white-washed walls. On view was another Frank Stella and another Rauschenberg. We had to stay on the top level and were basically kept away from close view from all the sculptures, but the bottom level featured some sculptures by Robert Morris. There was one work by Bruce Nauman (with neon flexible light tubes). And to my surprise, there was a work by George Segal that features a couple on a bed.


    So it was a great visit, but the weather was cooler than I expected (the compound was very well shaded). But it wasn't an earth shattering experience.

    And it'd be nice to have the money to live like this!

    After my visit I went to Rosie's to have a lobster roll (lots of lobster) and then I decided to visit Yale on the spur of the moment.

    Pleasant surprises at Yale... coming up!

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    I checked out the link on Wikipedia and there's a very nice link to a document for the nomination of the Glass House as a National Historic Landmark.


    p. 11 of this document under "Significance of the Glass House."

    "[T]he Glass House remains the epitome of modernism, its simplicity and purity of form unparalleled in domestic architecture."

    The entire estate is described very nicely in this document too (much better than my description of it). I guess that's the difference between a professionally written document compared to something whipped up by me in an hour. :)

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    Ok, in case anyone really cares about the art at Yale! :)

    After I was finished with the Glass House and lunch, I pondered what I'd do next. I could return to the city or do something more interesting. How about going to Yale, I thought? The weather was nice, and I was halfway there, more or less. I've been to New Haven before, of course, and I know people who went to Yale. But I've never really seen the campus. And it's hard to forget the memorable and moving portrait of the architect Louis Kahn by his son Nathaniel Kahn in the documentary "My Architect," which features a number of Kahn's famous works. I remember some of them and Yale's Gallery of Art. (As it turns out, the Center for British Art was also designed by Louis Kahn.)

    So there's architecture to explore in Yale. Now what about the cost? Having experimented with the ticket machine, I found out that I could buy tickets to New Haven, which, when added to my tickets for New Canaan, would cost me just $3 more if I had only gone to New Haven. So that seemed like a deal.

    But since I hadn't done any planning, I sent a friend a text message and had another friend verify for me that the galleries would close at 5 (not at 4, say, which would not give me enough time). My friend sent me a text back regarding what to do at Yale: "Darwin exhibit at Brit art museum? [This turned out to be closed.] Frank pepes pizza. Beinicke and sterling libaries. Have fun!"

    So off I was... to Yale!

    I know that New Haven is not exactly a pretty town, and the woman who answered the information line asked me to take a cab from the train station. But it's really just a brisk 20-minute walk from campus, as I discovered when I walked to the station from campus on the return trip.

    More about the architecture later, but first the art.

    Yale University Art Gallery

    I was amazed by how varied the collection was. There's a bit of everything, but I focused on Western Art. On the ground floor was an exhibition on problems with restoration and reformation. As an example, there a sculpture by Antoine (?) Pevsner was sadly disintegrating, as he used unstable material in its construction. I've never heard of this sculptor, who was apparently a constructivist (whatever this means, but this conjures Malevich).

    I went to the third floor, which is encyclopedic in its scope. Where to start? How about the Impressionists? Two of the most important paintings in this part of the collection, in my view, were both donated by Stephen Clark. One is van Gogh's "Night Cafe," which evidently is the subject of an ownership dispute lawsuit at the moment (you'll discover this when you look for this painting online). The other is a painting by Manet of a woman dressed in bullfighter's clothing, after one of Goya's majas. Manet had challenged art tradition before, and there he was at it again.

    Not long ago, the Met organized an exhibition on paintings that belonged to the Clark brothers, who suffered an irreparable rupture in their relationship. I can't recall if Yale sent these two paintings.

    The collection of Italian Renaissance paintings was interesting also. Apparently Yale has the "only painting by Pollaiuolo in the Western Hemisphere, Hercules and Deinaira." The claim seems dubious, but maybe other paintings were jointly painted by the brothers. There were also two small but exquisite fragments featuring the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, which are apparently related to fragments at the Getty Museum.

    Then I'd forgotten all about the Bosch at Yale! Yale claims that their "Allegory of Intemperance" and the Bosch at Louvre were part of one side of a triptych. The other part belongs to the National Gallery in DC (if I remember right). The middle panel is now missing.

    The more modern art in this collection was interesting also. I saw Duchamp's "Tu m' " that was shown in the Dada exhibition in DC and NYC a while ago. I'll just run through a small list of names: Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, Matthew Barney, and even a proto-drip painting by Jackson Pollock c. 1948. What I found was the most striking, however, was a very lifelike sculpture of a drug addict by Duane Hanson. When I saw that from a distance, I was wondering why a student was lying on the floor like that.

    And it's worthwhile mentioning Edward Austin Abbey's painting of the play scene in "Hamlet." I've never heard of this painter, but the style is reminiscent of symbolists such as Redon and Knopff. The painting was quite stunning.

    Finally, the sculpture courtyard and the sculpture garden. This is perhaps a little confusing. The garden, I think, is the space on the ground floor, and the courtyard is on the lower level. Currently the courtyard featured a work by Richard Serra (who went to Yale). I saw works by David Smith, Tony Smith, Louise Nevelson in the garden. There was a work by Martin Puryear called Le Prix, who went to Yale also.

    Link to the Bosch (famous for "Garden of Earthly Delights" in Prado):


    Edward Austin Abbey's "Hamlet" play scene:

    Center for British Art

    Next I headed across the street for the Center for British Art, which turns out to be a Louis Kahn building also. (I didn't know this.) There were two sculptures by Barbara Hepworth near the entrance.

    I didn't spend much time here because I know very little about British art, but I did go through the exhibition on paintings from the Royal Halloway collection. Halloway was a very wealthy man who endowed a college (now in University of London) and gave them a paintings collection. One interesting work was a painting by Landseer called "Man Proposes, God Disposes." (1864) "The work depicts polar bears devouring the remains of Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition, begun in 1845, to discover the Northwest Passage. Even today, it inspires superstition among Royal Holloway's students, and as a result the painting is concealed during College examinations."

    I'll just leave you to read the rest on the museum's website.

    Link: "Paintings from the Reign of Victoria...."


    Next: Louis Kahn Or maybe not. Actually I don't know much about him beyond what I remember from that documentary. I should read a little about the Yale buildings.

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    While you are visiting houses in CT, try the Hillstead Museum in Farmington. Very different from the others, but a home with plenty of Monet, Manet, Degas, Cassatt, as well as pictures of FDR and Wallis and Edward visiting.

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    Thanks. That looks interesting! But it doesn't seem accessible by public transportation (at least I don't see that from the website) and that will be a problem for me. I'll remember it for future reference though.

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    thanks for the report. I don't know when I'll head to New Haven and New Canaan, but hopefully in the next few years!

    I looked up the ticket prices for the Glass House: $30 vs $45. So, basically you're paying the additional $15 for a "photography pass"? Did you feel rushed with the 90-min tour? I remember when I was at FallingWater and took the regular tour, I felt rushed from room to room, so when I return in the future, I will book the in-depth tour.

    Didn't know Yale has a Bosch. Thanks for the heads-up.

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    New Haven is not so far from Boston, is it? But New Canaan would be more out of the way, I think.

    I think the 90-minute tour was fine. I was actually hoping for a shorter tour because the tour ended right after a train to Stamford. Since the train runs hourly, it was a little incovenient. So I had lunch in New Canaan.

    Also I think the 90-minute tour probably allows some very, very discreet photography.

    I'd probably think more about the times of the tours. Right now the 90-minute tours are in the morning. The afternoon tours are the 2-hour ones. So you could have a preference for the time rather than the length. Also I think the website says that if you donate $250 you get a private tour (can invite some extra friends for $30 each, I think).

    I can't remember what the Falllingwater tour was like when I went there since it must have been about 10 years ago, but I remember that it was very interesting and the site was wonderful. I was watching the Johnson interview with Charlie Rose in 1996 yesterday -- even Johnson admits himself that he wasn't such a great architect in comparison to the others, but I think he might have been the first winner of the Pritzker prize.

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    Oh regarding the Bosch -- you may remember that there used to be a website called Boschuniverse.com. Sadly it doesn't seem to be working right now. I learned about the Yale Bosch from that website, but I had not known the story about the connections to the Louvre and DC Bosches. (That's why sometimes the audioguide is really worth listening to -- and the audioguide was also free!)

    According to my notes from Boschuniverse, the website claims 25 paintings and 8 drawings. Unfortunately I didn't keep a list of the works listed on the website. But there are 7 triptychs -- pretty sure I've seen most of them (3 in Prado, 2 in Venice, 1 in Vienna and 1 in Lisbon).

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    I cleaned up my report on the Glass House and added some links here:


    Just in case anyone is actually looking for more information on the architecture at Yale, I'll provide links to some reviews by the NYT architecture critic Ouroussoff. This is a review of the University Art Gallery:


    I actually liked the Center for British Art better. I did a web search and found a very succint and nice description by Paul Heyer: "based on a repetitive 20-foot-square grid, was formally conceived as a series of highly structured 'roomlike' spaces. Organized around two inner courts which, like the fourth and top floor, are beautifully naturally lighted from above through a coffered skylight system, the whole ambiance of the building is rich, seductive, and well-scaled to the mainly eighteenth and early nineteenth century paintings."

    Even if you don't care for British Art (like me), pop inside to see this interesting building.

    Finally review of the Art & Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph:


    It was recently renovated and it's now known as the Paul Rudolph building. You can get a sense for its tortured history from the review.

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