Gay Gatherings: Philip Johnson, David Whitney and the Modern Arts

Organized by Thomas Mellins and Donald Albrecht

Gay Gatherings: Philip Johnson, David Whitney and the Modern Arts explores interactions at the Glass House among eight gay men who profoundly shaped 20th-century artistic culture: architect Philip Johnson and his longtime partner, curator/collector David Whitney; composer John Cage; choreographer Merce Cunningham; ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein; and artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

Coincident with the 50th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall Uprising in 1969, a watershed in the contemporary gay rights movement, and the 70th anniversary of the Philip Johnson’s completion of the Glass House in 1949, Gay Gatherings underscores an essential element of the site ‘s history that has not been fully presented as part of its public interpretation. “The exhibition highlights the Glass House as an intellectual and artistic gathering place,” says Thomas Mellins, co-curator of the show, “where these men’s work was collected, exhibited, and performed.”

While the Glass House served as a salon from its beginnings, it became even more so once Johnson was joined in New Canaan by David Grainger Whitney, the man who would be his partner, beginning in 1960, until the end of both of their lives in 2005. Whitney, 33 years Johnson’s junior, brought not only a passion and talent for art, but also the perspective of a younger generation to Johnson’s world. Johnson described Whitney by declaring, “David has an eye”— a phrase Johnson applied rarely and just to those with the most extraordinary abilities as curators, collectors, and patrons.

“As gay men in a relationship that endured for nearly 45 years,” Donald Albrecht, co-curator of the exhibition noted, “they presided over an intellectually adventurous site during a period when the artistic contributions of gay men were prevalent and increasingly acknowledged within mainstream culture.”

Gay Gatherings will be presented in two buildings on the Glass House site: Da Monsta and the Painting Gallery. The exhibition begins in Da Monsta with a specially created digital presentation. This visually showcases the relationships among the exhibition’s key figures, both at the Glass House and other cultural venues, from Harvard University to The Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center to the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

This presentation is rooted in maps of the estate; works of art; photographs by David McCabe, Christopher Makos, and others; and vintage films, including footage of Cunningham and Cage’s “Country Happening” performance at the Glass House in 1967. The presentation’s maps serve to indicate the locations on the property where interactions took place or artworks are on view, including the Brick House (or Guest House), the Painting Gallery, the Sculpture Gallery, the Pond Pavilion, the meadow, the Lincoln Kirstein Tower, and the Glass House itself.

The installation in Da Monsta also includes three display cases of magazines, books and artwork that trace connections among Johnson, Whitney, and the featured artists. Here, visitors will see Johnson’s own copies of Hound & Horn magazine, which Kirstein established, and Johnson contributed to, while they were students at Harvard; and books and exhibition catalogs about Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Johns created by David Whitney.

Gay Gatherings continues within the Painting Gallery. In the building’s foyer, visitors will encounter 40 postcards written by Cunningham, Johns, Warhol, Rauschenberg to David Whitney, and Philip Johnson to David Whitney. Key holdings in the Glass House collections—paintings by Rauschenberg, Johns, and Warhol—will be shown in the Painting Gallery itself, alongside two photographs by David McCabe taken at the Glass House in 1964-65.

To complement this selection from the Glass House’s permanent collection, The Dietary by Robert Indiana, on loan from a private collection, courtesy of Marc Salama-Caro, hangs next to The Glass House’s Recital (Spread) by Rauschenberg. The work has not been displayed publicly since 1968. The significance of including this work of 1962, which is from Indiana’s EAT/DIE series, is how it closely relates to EAT, a sculpture that Indiana produced for Johnson at the New York State Pavilion project of 1964, whose history is explored in the digital presentation in Da Monsta. Indiana both participated in the gay community and was an artist who was more conceptual than Pop. He visited the Glass House at Johnson’s invitation; Johnson collected his work beginning in the early 1960s.

The pavilion was an opportunity for Johnson to integrate the work of ten contemporary artists with his architecture; he commissioned work from: Peter Agostini, John Chamberlain, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Lieberman, Robert Malloy, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. EAT was placed between works by Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly.

Gay Gatherings is organized by Thomas Mellins and Donald Albrecht.

Mr. Mellins has curated numerous exhibitions nationwide on architectural and cultural subjects. These have included: Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920-1945; Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy; The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis; Doris Duke’s Shangri-La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art; as well as The New York Public Library: Celebrating 100 Years, which became the most heavily attended exhibition in the library’s history. Mr. Mellins co-authored New York Rising: An Illustrated History from the Durst Collection and three award-winning books on the architecture and urbanism of New York: New York 1880, New York 1930, and New York 1960.

Mr. Albrecht has curated exhibitions that have ranged from overviews of cultural trends, including World War II and the American Dream and Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design; the National Design Triennial for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, to profiles of individual design firms and artists—The Work of Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, and The High Style of Dorothy Draper, among many others. For most exhibitions, Mr. Albrecht also develops and edits the catalogs, contributing major essays and working with other writers to provide fresh critical perspectives.

Pure + Applied designed the exhibition installation and digital presentation.

This project is supported by the Interpretation and Education Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an endowed fund made possible by a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.