Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Images from the visit to Mass MoCa the other day. To give you a sense of scale, this is a small glass house suspended in an enormous loft space. The name of the exhibit was Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With, by the artist IƱigo Manglano-Ovalle. Indeed the furnishings in the house are upside down.

When I opened the doors to enter the hall and saw the glass house from afar I laughed because it instantly called to my mind a distant yet vivid memory, of Philip Johnson's glass house on Ponus Ridge Road in New Canaan, CT. I used to bike up that road all the time (including when you and I were dating) and loved to stop in the golden late afternoon - just this hour probably, quarter to six - and peek over the beautiful ancient stone wall across verdant acres to the little house set far back towards the west. Almost every time I took a peek at the house - transparent, minimalist furniture, a settee visible - it sat empty in the distance.

One time, in the A.D. after you and I broke up - I think I was in college, but I could be mistaken - anyway, I was home for a weekend and thought of the glass house and convinced my sister, seven years younger than me, that she should glimpse it, that we should go see it. (Little details are coming to me, possibly false - was she applying to art school at that time? and wasn't aware of Philip Johnson and his marvelous house? and that bossy older sister me set about to rectify that educational omission?)

Memory's a little hazy on how we got there. I believe we took the branch train to either Talmadge Hill or New Canaan - Talmadge Hill, I suppose, I think that would have been closer. Either way it would have been a long walk to his house, so now I'm thinking that we quite jauntily and adventurously took our bikes on the train, cycling tourists on the all of 10-15 minute ride north from Glenbrook. That's all that makes sense to me anyway - we must have done that.

We disembarked the train, in the foreign wilds of bucolic and beautiful New Canaan - I always loved those ridged roads and vistas and quaint bridges overhanging the ever-enticing Merritt - but I digress. We made our way up Ponus Ridge (or if from the New Canaan village station, possibly along Wahackme or was it Frogtown Road, routes that I had bicycled countless times in the past) and arrived at the Great stone Wall fronting Johnson's impressively vast acreage that rolled (as I recall) endlessly to the west where he (and on occasion I) enjoyed vivid sunsets setting behind another ridge, High, or Long, or maybe Greenwich already even.

My sister and I propped our bikes against the southernmost corner of the stone wall and clambered up. Now I recall it was a rather high wall - high enough that to glimpse the architectural square fishbowl with its black leather and steel furnishings, required gaining a foothold in a crevice and hoisting myself up. It didn't take much, a mere almost ladylike step or two. It wasn't an obnoxiously high wall, six feet or higher that by its very existence ostentatiously advertised "Keep Out." (I think of one of that nature along the main street in Upper Nyack, New York.) No, it was four to five feet, or a bit more, just high enough to prevent curious or indifferent ogling from cars.

I was practiced at clambering off my bike, gaining a toehold, and glimpsing the house and property from a momentary perch. I ditched my bike and invited my sister to do the same. We had come all this way, it was a leisurely, quiet, still summer afternoon, nothing was going on, everything was perfectly quiet, flies buzzing perhaps, but just pervasive silence all around. So I thought, what the heck? Let's scale the wall and sit against the other side and look at the place and enjoy our snack - because now I'm thinking (unless I'm embellishing) that we'd packed a light meal, a sandwich perhaps, and certainly a cold drink of water, or iced tea, against a sweltering day.

So I'm spending a moment of adventurous quality time with my young sister who possibly at the time idolized me (or maybe not, who knows anymore). We're resting our backs against the cool wall, stretching our limbs out on the lawn, admiring the important 20th century architectural landscape which - imagine that! at the time - two girls with a few dollars could hop on bicycles and a train to see - when

all of a sudden in the glass house a Giacometti figure sprang from the sculptural settee. OMG! Philip Johnson was home! Who knew? I don't recall a parking pad in front of his house, or even a drive leading right to it. I think I used to idly wonder how he did reach his house - if he ever did. It didn't actually look liveable.

Oh yeah, he was home all right - already, back in the late 1970s, elderly - and I can tell you that he - assuming it was he, the animated figure leaping to his feet and into his slippers (or am I making that part up??!!!) - was quite spry. My sister and I took one look at each other and bolted. We flew right over that wall, got back on our bikes, and that was that.

Yet another misadventure with my sister, things never go well when we're together. Such as the time in Brooklyn Heights that we got out of a cab and in the act of opening the door knocked over a cyclist in the bike lane. It's always like that with her and me. And somehow it's always My Fault. Ah whatever.

So I incurred the momentary wrath of Philip Johnson. I seem to have that effect sometimes.

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