Sculpture Gallery

Sculpture Gallery, 1970

Philip Johnson’s inspiration for the Sculpture Gallery was, in part, the Greek islands and their many villages marked by stairways. Johnson remarked that in these villages, “every street is a staircase to somewhere.” The building’s plan comprises a series of squares set at 45-degree angles to each other. Staircases spiral down past a series of bays, which contain sculptures in the following visual sequence: Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, George Segal, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, and Andrew Lord.

The building’s glass ceiling is supported by tubular steel rafters that contain cold cathode lighting. Sunny conditions reveal an extremely complex pattern of light and shadow in the building’s interior five levels. The structure so pleased Johnson that he seriously considered moving his residence from the Glass House to the Sculpture Gallery. However, he did not, stating “Where would I have put the sculpture?”

The passage of time and effect of the elements dictated that restoration occur in 2015. The major push for the replacement of this skylight system was dictated by the amount of water infiltration received during wet weather events since the gaskets and all of the seals in the ceiling system were beyond their functioning life.  In addition, the original skylights were single pane. They have been replaced with double pane glass which is safer, more energy efficient and cuts down the UV light hitting the artwork housed in the building. A generous gift from Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® covering materials and delivery of the skylight system enabled the Glass House to undertake the restoration at this time. Learn more about this preservation project here. 

Walking Tour with Philip Johnson, 1991

“As we approach the Sculpture Gallery, one asks oneself, why do we have a separate gallery for sculpture and for painting? Well, that occurred to me in 1965, as I finished the Painting Gallery. Every time I took a great big panel and moved it around the rack to see the next painting, it would bang into a very large piece of sculpture, which then I said, well, put wheels on the sculpture. That looked so silly, all the sculpture, big sculpture, being wandered around with wheels on it. That was one reason. The other reason was that I had another idea for a building, which is the usual reason for building a building. In the Sculpture Gallery I had a lot more problems that have nothing to do with art whatsoever but with my whim. So I built another building. I love to build buildings. Everybody does. They all want to build nests. They all want to build temples. Which came first, the temple or the nest, it’s hard to say. But both those drives are basic to human nature. So I said I’m human, so let’s build another building. So I did and my excuse is perfect; I filled it with sculpture, you see, so nobody can say, ‘You damn fool, you just built a perfectly nonsensical building up in the woods.’ No, I had a Sculpture Gallery.

I wanted a way, a proper way, to look at sculpture. And up to now I’d been with the Museum of Modem Art a long time and I got very tired – no, I got annoyed, by the fact that you see one sculpture and behind you, in your sub-vision, were 15 or 16 other sculptures. All sculpture needs a background of some kind, I felt. So I designed this building – there are always a multitude of thoughts – but the two main ones were to make the sculpture look well in its setting, each one by itself. The other one was to create my best room, which I succeeded. This is still the best single room that I have ever designed.

I divide my buildings into inside buildings and outside buildings. [The Painting Gallery] is an inside building. The exterior is interesting in that it flops around the landscape but it doesn’t have the key monumentality that an exterior building should have. The Glass House is both. The Painting Gallery is an inside building but it’s also placed in the landscape very cleverly. But this [the Sculpture Gallery] is an inside building. I didn’t work on the exterior; I didn’t work on the front door. I wanted an experience of a room.

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