All tours of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut begin and end a t the Visitors Center in downtown New Canaan. The clean, modern space endeavors to express the nature of Johnson’s work without trying to compete with it or mimic it. Located in an existing basement truck loading dock it accommodates an exhibition, on-site ticketing and a museum shop. The etched glass facade, featuring the identity designed by Michael Bierut, reflects the house’s intrinsic dichotomy between public and private and opaque and transparent.
Inside, a wall of video monitors are ‘hung’ on an enameled steel wall in a gallery-like pattern. Johnson was so multifaceted, so varied and lived so long that any single narrative of his life was destined to lack the essential complexity of the man. Each of the 24 screens highlights an aspect of Johnson’s life, ranging from a tour through his Rolodex, his art collection, the compound in varied seasons and times of day, photos of his grand European tour, early sketches of the Glass House, performances held on the site with dances by Merce Cunningham and on and on. In a slowly dissolving set of images Johnson’s life begins to fill in, avoiding anything you would see at the compound, but everything else.
This quiet gallery of Philip Johnson is adjacent to a highly curated retail shop. The experience, whether enjoyed before or after a visit to the Glass House, is an entirely different, but complementary, experience.