February 18, 2014
The Glass House to Be Obscured by Mist for Art’s Sake
To celebrate its 65th anniversary, the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya will cloak Philip Johnson’s famously transparent house in a thick shroud of fog.
“Architecture is the arrangement of space for excitement,” the architect Philip Johnson pronounced in Esquire magazine in 1999, and he should know. Living in the Glass House must have been a regular adrenaline rush. Storms, for instance, must have been both beautiful and terrifying—“Glass shatters. Danger is one of the greatest things to use in architecture,” Johnson said. But there were surely other, subtler pleasures. What was it like to be in a Glass House in the middle of a green meadow, when the fog slowly rolled in?
Visitors in the 2014 tour season to the Glass House will find out. For about 10 to 15 minutes each hour, the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya will envelope the building in a dense mist of fresh water pumped at high pressure through 600 nozzles, in an art installation called Fujiko Nakaya: Veil. The cloud will briefly interrupt the Glass House’s main aesthetic feature—its transparency. And in doing so, Nakaya believes, it might show us something new about the structure many believe they know so well.
“Fog responds constantly to its own surroundings, revealing and concealing the features of the environment,” the artist says. “Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things—like wind—become visible.” It’s not clear if visitors can be inside the house when the mists take over, but that experience will probably be quite something, as the glass walls become partly reflective and images of the interior are superimposed on cloudy impressions of the world outside.
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If the idea of obscuring architecture with mist reminds you of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s famous Blur Building at the 2002 Swiss Expo, you’re not far off the mark. Nakaya, the queen of mists in the art world, was a consultant on that project. More recently, she turned Paris’s Place de la Republique into Fog Square and created a Fog Bridge for the opening of San Francisco’s Exploratorium.
A visit to the Glass House has always been as much of an art experience as an architectural pilgrimage. Johnson and his partner David Whitney were among the keenest collectors of modern art, including site-specific works. Nakaya’s installation will be the first to turn the Glass House itself into a work of art.