In 1858, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and architect Calvert Vaux won a design competition that would realize their plans for a large-scale public park in New York City. Central Park was to be a public access point for all, regardless of social standing. But a series of quickly-rising mansions along the park’s border kickstarted a trajectory of class distinction—one that has proven difficult to shake.
A high-born financier, William Whitney took up a desirable residence on 68th Street and Fifth Avenue overlooking the park. In 1901, he oversaw the completion of a grand ballroom in his home, designed with the capacity to accommodate 1,000 elite New Yorkers. The ballroom was built for an annual party hosting the city’s wealthiest families, from the Astors to the Vanderbilts.
For Los Angeles-based artist Liz Glynn, this ballroom is noteworthy because, unlike the others, it didn’t double as any sort of living space. It was exclusively reserved for one night per year.
A symbol of extreme luxury, Whitney’s home stood in stark contrast to the public park it juxtaposed. Well over a century later, Glynn resurrects elements of Whitney’s now-demolished ballroom only blocks away from where it once stood, placed at an entrance to the city’s most popular public space.
“The idea is turning this rarefied, extremely private space into an open-air ruin. The title refers to the current real estate market and the question of who can afford to live here anymore,” Glynn explained to the New York Times. Thus the artist’s installation highlights the ongoing class distinction made apparent through the relentless separation between the public and private spheres.
A series of 3D-printed cast concrete arches, sofas, and chairs designed to resemble those in Whitney’s ballroom, Open House references the extravagance and grandeur of the Gilded Age (c.1870 – c.1900). After studying the details of original Gilded Age furniture, Glynn created replicas of similar size and stature. By hand, she drew and then 3D-printed popular patterns on Gilded Age upholstery, which she glued to the furniture she personally designed. Finally, she cast her replicas in concrete from a mold.
“I wanted to do them in the material Le Corbusier used to make housing for the masses,” Glynn told Artsy. The Swiss-French architect was novel in his regard for ‘the masses,’ designing buildings that supported health and wellbeing.
Open House exposes the culture of magnificent luxury (or perhaps, greed) that New York City has never quite managed to outgrow. As the Public Art Fund sums up in a statement, “With this revision, the artist invites the public to enjoy a previously exclusive interior space that is now open and accessible to all.”
Open House will remain on view until September 24, 2017 at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza, 60th Street and 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10019.