Urbach joined SFMOMA in 2006 as the Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, a position he served in for five years. Among his most famous exhibitions was How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now, a collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro put on during the last few months of his tenure. He also accumulated hundreds of works for SFMOMA’s permanent collection including the inflatable building by Alex Schweder from the 2009 showcase, Sensate: Bodies and Design. From San Francisco, Urbach relocated to the East Coast to oversee The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 2012. AN’s editor in chief Bill Menking spoke with him in 2017 about his career and his recent transition to Tel Aviv for a sabbatical period during which he taught at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and worked on various writing projects. During his near-three decades in the profession, Urbach penned articles for various journals and co-authored books on architectural history, theory, and criticism. He was a contributing editor for Interior Design magazine and wrote for outlets such as The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis, Artforum, and more. Urbach is survived by his parents, siblings, his husband and partner of 35 years, Stephen Hartman, and partner of two years, Ronen Amira. Family and friends are asking for donations to be made in his honor to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Thinking of my friend and colleague Henry Urbach who we lost this week. He was an extraordinary person who contributed so much to our field as a leader and thinker. He will be deeply missed and always remembered.— Beatrice Galilee (@_Beatrice) September 16, 2019
Posts tagged with "The Glass House":
The Modernist Paperweight is designed by Werkstätte Carl Auböck Vienna exclusively for the Glass House Design Store. These extraordinary life-sized Philip Johnson spectacles were lovingly created for us by Carl Auböck IV. Each piece bears the official Auböck stamp and comes with exclusive certification. The paperweight comes in patina or polished solid brass options. All purchases help support preservation at the Glass House.
The Glass House Design Store offers an edited selection of gifts and limited editions that represent the sensibility and ideas that inform the Glass House, both the iconic 1949 structure and the unique synthesis of art, architecture, and landscape that developed over half a century. Inspired by “Machine Art,” a legendary exhibition organized by Philip Johnson for the Museum of Modern Art in 1934, the Glass House Design Store celebrates Johnson’s curatorial vision through its rigorous offering.The store is located at the Glass House Visitor Center in New Canaan, Connecticut. The Glass House, built between 1949 and 1995 by architect Philip Johnson, is a National Trust Historic Site located in New Canaan, CT. The pastoral 49-acre landscape comprises fourteen structures, including the Glass House (1949), and features a permanent collection of 20th-century painting and sculpture, along with temporary exhibitions. The tour season runs from May to November and advance reservations are required. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.
The Architect’s Newspaper Editor-in-Chief William Menking sat down with Henry Urbach to discuss Urbach’s long and varied career as a dealer of architecture drawings, curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and director of the Philip Johnson Glass House.
The Architect’s Newspaper: You have had a varied career as a gallery owner, curator, writer, and museum director. How did you get started in these various activities?
Henry Urbach: It began while I was a graduate student at Princeton and I started to take note of experimental architecture as a form of cultural production that is compelling on its own terms. There were many interesting projects but few spaces dedicated to exhibiting them. That was the genesis of Henry Urbach Architecture, which opened to the public in 1997. I wanted to create a new platform for experimental architecture by making use of the gallery model. The gallery was a calling, and a bit of a stretch. I had no gallery experience and no money, but a lot of determination and, slowly but surely, people who got behind the idea, as artists and architects, as audience and patrons, and there was tremendous press support. I think I was very lucky.
You became a curator of architecture before it became a fashionable career. Why did it occur to you to become active in this field?
As the gallery’s profile grew I developed relationships with curators and institutions worldwide. SFMOMA approached me at the perfect moment, about ten years into the life of the gallery and at a time when real estate and other costs were skyrocketing in New York. The museum offered a wonderful platform to continue exhibiting work, developing new commissions, and, in general, exploring what it means to present architecture.
Curating has become professionalized in the past few years with university graduate programs devoted to it and many young people looking to it as a career. What do you think of these recent developments in the art and architecture world?
I think it’s wonderful that there’s this kind of interest, and now opportunities, for formal education. Curating in architecture used to be something of a gentleman’s sport or sideline; it deserves to be treated as a proper discipline with its own history, theory, and practices.
I remember the show of Lebbeus Woods and Kiki Smith. What other shows did you curate at the gallery that were memorable?
We did over 55 exhibitions, so it’s a hard question for me to answer! Some of the other memorable installations by architects include LOT-EK’s Mixer, Freecell Architecture’s MoistSCAPE, and R&Sie’s Mosquito Bottleneck.
Did you close the gallery when you moved to San Francisco? Why have architecture galleries devoted to drawings and professional work always had a hard time succeeding as businesses?
I closed the gallery shortly before moving to San Francisco. The market for architecture, especially more experimental and contemporary work, remains very limited.
How long were you in San Francisco, and what shows did you curate there that stand out?
My first exhibition was the global premiere of Olafur Eliasson’s BMW Art Car, made of steel and ice and exhibited in a walk-in freezer. We did Jürgen Mayer’s first museum exhibition, as well as Tobias Wong’s. The largest exhibition was a collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro called How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now.
There were also shows dealing with the permanent collection through thematic probes, such as an exhibition on the architectural section, one on the process of building a museum collection, and one on the body and architecture called Sensate that included new commissions by Andrew Kudless and Alex Schweder.
In 2012 you became director of The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. It seems like most of your shows there brought artists to create a conversation with the house and even Philip Johnson’s legacy. How would you describe your mandate for programming at The Glass House?
You’re absolutely right. The idea was to take the historic site and transform it into a new platform for contemporary work by artists and architects that could develop compelling dialogues with the house and its author. The most elaborate of these was Fujiko Nakaya’s Veil, which produced a billowing cloud of mist that allowed The Glass House to occasionally disappear.
What will you do for your next act?
Currently I’m on sabbatical in Tel Aviv, where I’ve been exploring the lively art and design scene while working on several writing projects. Starting in August, I’ll begin teaching a seminar and studio at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.
Although Fujiko Nakayaam covered it in fog, and Julianna Barwick bathed it in ambient sound, Kusama’s Dots Obsession – Alive, Seeking for Eternal Hope is the first piece to engage the surfaces of Philip Johnson's modernist New Canaan home directly. Bright red dots of varying sizes are pasted onto the Glass House's walls, playfully disrupting the structure's rigid geometries and distorting its regular patterns of light and shadow to create an "infinity room."
“My desire is to measure and to make order of the infinite, unbounded universe from my own position within it, with polka dots. In exploring this, the single dot is my own life, and I am a single particle amongst billions. I work with the principal themes of infinity, self-image, and compulsive repetition in objects and forms, such as the steel spheres of Narcissus Garden and the mirrored walls I have created,” Kusama explained in a statement.
“Kusama directly and deliberately plays with the surface of the Glass House,” curator Irene Shum told the New York Times. She added that Dots Obsession “draws the visitor out into the landscape with layer reflections of polka dots.”
The exhibition dialogues with Kusama's other works on-site. Her six-foot-tall PUMPKIN, installed in 2015, sits atop a hill northeast of the Brick House, where Ellsworth Kelly's Curve II (1973) once lived. Narcussis Garden, 1,300 12-inch reflective orbs, floats in the property's pond. The installation originally debuted at the 1966 Venice Biennale and was resurrected to celebrate Philip Johnson’s 110th birthday and the 10th anniversary of the Glass House’s public opening. Visitors can buy a sphere (“YOUR NARCISSIUM [sic]”) for two dollars apiece.
That installation closes September 7 and Dots Obsession runs through September 26. To see the three pieces together, Kusama fans should drop everything and get to New Canaan soon.