Stella Attraction

Glass House features famous painter.

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
A conservator brush vacuums Konskie III, a Frank Stella
painting in the Glass House collection.

Credit: Courtesy Luca Bonetti

When the National Trust took over Philip Johnson's Glass House property, it became the steward not only of the 14 structures that the architect designed and built on the site, but also of 41 large-scale works of art and hundreds of objects (including a daybed designed by Mies van der Rohe) that he left behind in his collection. Johnson's New Canaan, Conn., estate reflects his belief that art and architecture are closely connected.

Johnson was an avid collector of modern art. "He made all his own choices—bang bang bang—and that was it. And he never seemed to second-guess any of them either," says Frank Stella, one of Johnson's friends and, with 14 paintings and sculptures in the Glass House collection, one of his favorite artists. "A lot of dealers, a lot of people buy stuff and say, ‘I'll trade this one for that one.' That wasn't Philip's style. He was pretty sure—he liked what he liked."

Six of Stella's paintings are starring in the inaugural exhibit of Glass House, which opened to the public in June. Irene Allen, the curator and collections manager, decided to put Stella in the spotlight during the opening season because of a 1979 letter she found to Johnson from Theodore A. Sande, a former Trust vice president for properties, confirming Johnson's interest in creating a Stella collection at the house. (Johnson bequeathed the property to the Trust in 1986.) "It was really the letter that made it clear to me that we would open the site with Frank Stella," says Allen.

To prepare the collection for viewing, the Trust had to stabilize the environments of the two exhibition spaces. In the sculpture gallery, outside vents that had been known to let in the occasional bird were closed, and the sculptures were cleaned of corrosion and dust. In the underground painting gallery, the climate control system needed fixing. It had worked only intermittently during Johnson's lifetime, causing the air to become too humid. The result was visible mold growing on walls, carpet, ceiling, and even the paintings themselves, which are now being restored.

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