Open House‘s cast concrete furnishings, laid out on a public plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park, reference the interiors of one of Manhattan’s most famous Gilded Age mansions. Notably, the now-demolished home of politician William C. Whitney featured a 1,000-person ballroom, the kind of mahogany-and-silk fantasia where Ellen Olenska might have caught Newland Archer’s eye.
Gracing a corner just eight blocks north of the exhibition, the Stanford White–designed home was a lavish gathering place for New York elite. Turn-of-the-century society mingled in its ballroom, one of the grandest private spaces in the city, luxuriating on real and reproduction 18th-century French furniture. Glynn, who’s based in Los Angeles, reproduced 26 of those couches, chairs, footstools and graceful entryways in concrete—a material of the people, she told The Architect’s Newspaper, that she chose for its associations with working-class modernist housing, particularly in the work of Le Corbusier. The spacious outdoor interior (what Glynn calls her “ruin”) was informed by archival research into the gracious homes of old New York, when (like now) the gap between the haves and have-nots defined the production of space in the city.
The work reflects too on the decadence of today’s ultra-rich, whose tastes shape the New York skyline into wastebaskets and all-glass everything. By turning the private into public, Glynn questions how social class in the city is performed and displayed. “In putting together this exhibition,” said associate curator Daniel S. Palmer, “we asked, ‘How can we make something that engages the entirety of the plaza, and make this an embodied architectural space?'”
Although it officially opens tomorrow, New Yorkers were already making the most of their new living room. A woman was lounging in one of the armchairs, applying chapstick, while another scooped her pug up onto a couch to chat with a friend. To withstand three seasons’ worth of weather but allow for design flexibility, the GFRC concrete was blended with an acrylic polymer that allowed Glynn to imprint patterns into the cushions, while decorative wood details are rendered evocatively in the same material. The furniture retains the elegance of its Whitney predecessors, but at 500 to 900 pounds apiece, they are theft-proof and durable enough for ten thousand butts.
Open House is on view through September 24 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, at the northwest corner of 60th Street and Fifth Avenue.