New York

Liz Glynn, Open House, 2017, cast concrete. Installation view. Photo: James Ewing.

Liz Glynn, Open House, 2017, cast concrete. Installation view. Photo: James Ewing.

Liz Glynn

Liz Glynn, Open House, 2017, cast concrete. Installation view. Photo: James Ewing.

The William C. Whitney House used to stand at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Sixty-Eighth Street, but like a lot of things in New York, it was torn down to make way for the future. (A large apartment complex occupies the site today.) For her project some ten blocks south, at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Los Angeles–based artist Liz Glynn has re-created portions of the lost building’s Stanford White–designed interiors out of concrete. Using photographic documentation as a kind of negative, Glynn cast a suite of armchairs and settees and sofas, as well as entryways and porticos, which gave the project a permeable edge. (The way these ornate passageways framed hot dog stands and honking Ubers provided the work a good portion of its frisson.) It was a sort of living room for the city, a hardened version of the domestic. The artist titled the work Open House. Call it Plaza brut.

There is some way, I think, in which the work wanted to understand itself as a way of redistributing resources, of bringing the grandeur of the gilded interior out into the rugged openness of Central Park. But it also seems important that this interior no longer exists as a site of plenitude, even if new forms of wealth and power loom all around, peering out from nearby, shadow-casting glass towers, which throw a pall on the park like a mammoth sundial. Indeed, the work had the eerie, bygone quality of a ruin or a memorial, marking a little protest against forgetting, which had to do with the work’s form—not only its gray, austere concrete (which became wonderfully polished in places by people’s bottoms, and covered in others with moldering leaves and bird poop), but also the fact that the underside of the furniture has been made solid so that a sofa, for example, was not standing on spindly legs but rested on a minimalist block. Like Bruce Nauman and Rachel Whiteread, Glynn has also gotten involved in the making the making positive of negative space, but unlike her forebears she combines that space with the thing itself. While in some sense a structural necessity, Glynn’s process is both a way of inviting the body and of blocking it out. (“But whose body?” we might ask.)

The success of the project had to do with the way this quality of loss was combined with an equal and opposite sense of generosity and abundance. Sometime during the 1980s (alongside the violent quarrels surrounding Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, 1981), public art, or art in public places, decided to check its heroism—its monumentality—and give the people a moment of respite from the daily grind. This gifted us droll works like Ned Smyth’s 1987 Upper Room in Battery Park City, a relatively innocuous colonnade of new urbanist historicism, replete with red marble. Glynn’s structure could certainly be folded into this narrative of accommodation (like Smyth’s, it felt somewhat like a theater set), yet it possessed a fundamental queasiness; it managed to create a little fissure in our idea of what public space should feel like (without insisting on any fundamental change in current social relations). There is no correct place for this sculpture. Both private and public feel like inadequate descriptors, even as the work sought to present them in juxtaposition. (Perhaps these terms have become inadequate in general.) A man smoked a pipe while lounging on a sofa. And the selfie-takers carried on.

Alex Kitnick