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The Sculpture Gallery at The Glass House. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The Sculpture Gallery at The Glass House. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

Robert Stadler Has a “Playdate” With Philip Johnson at His Glass House

October 5, 2022
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It’s a serene, bluebird-sky day, a slight chill in the air, and I’m walking with the Paris-based, Austrian-born designer-artist-provocateur Robert Stadler along a central pathway on Philip Johnson’s 49-acre Glass House estate in New Canaan, Connecticut. We’ve just exited the property’s whitewashed, brick-floored, glass-ceilinged Sculpture Gallery, a transfixing space of light and shadow built in 1970 that’s home to works by artists including Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. Now, for one of the first times ever, a temporary installation by a contemporary artist—Stadler—is being shown among the sculptures of these art-world giants.

Composed of 11 bowling balls and presented as part of the cheeky “Robert Stadler: Playdate” exhibition across the site (on view through December 12), the inventive arrangement explores, in Stadler’s wily way, Johnson’s concept of “safe danger.” The spheres both enliven the gallery (think: the shiny black-stone globe in Walter De Maria’s 2004 “Time/Timeless/No Time” installation at the Tadao Ando–designed Chichu Art Museum in Japan, but multiplied and in miniature) while also highlighting the certain precariousness underpinning the room’s design—namely, its railing-free staircase, which descends four landings. Bowling serves as a helpful metaphor for what Stadler has done here: The balls, which allude to Richard Artschwager’s “Yes/No” series (1968–1974)—one of which Stadler, an avid collector, has in his personal collection—disrupt the gallery’s arrangement, striking a playful, Duchampian tone and offering an alternate way of viewing a space that, since Johnson’s passing in 2005, has more often than not felt like an ethereal mausoleum than an active environment for art.

Stadler’s playful bowling-ball installation in the Glass House’s Sculpture Gallery. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
Stadler’s playful bowling-ball installation in the Glass House’s Sculpture Gallery. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

Hilary Lewis, the chief curator and creative director of The Glass House; Stadler’s wife, Serena Ciranna; and Gina, the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, walk ahead of us. “What a day, huh?” Stadler says, beaming.

Considering that he finished installing the works just minutes before my arrival, he seems completely relaxed and at home. While Stadler and I are friends, this visit to The Glass House feels unusually familial, almost as if he isn’t giving me a tour of an exhibition, but rather of his own countryside compound. This, despite the fact that, until meeting Lewis at a design conference in São Paulo in 2018, the work of Johnson and the Glass House site were not really on Stadler’s radar. “I have to admit that, at first, I thought the Glass House was just the Glass House,” he tells me. “I was not aware of the whole site and all these buildings, from the ’50s to the ’90s, in such different styles. One could think that they are not done by the same architect.”

The Glass House site is, in many respects, the ideal venue for Stadler’s work, which—as with Johnson’s—is intellectually rigorous, tends to follow no formal style, eschews categorization, and at its best functions as a form of provocation. The Glass House structures, by design, and the grounds, by their nature, leave plenty of room for interpretation and play. When I ask Stadler how he decided to position his work within the context of Johnson’s, he says, “It was not any one specific idea; it was more the question of ‘why not?’” He adds, “I think that’s where I’m most connected with Johnson: a certain idea of freedom of approaching a project. And also trying to figure out how far you can go with it.”

A view of one of Stadler’s bowling balls in the Sculpture Gallery. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
A view of one of Stadler’s bowling balls in the Sculpture Gallery. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

Stadler’s “Playdate” presentation isn’t the first time he has been in direct conversation with a dead artist: The show follows “Solid Doubts,” a 2017 exhibition curated by Dakin Hart at the Noguchi Museum in New York, that similarly pushed beyond any categories of art and design, and created a lively dialogue with the indefinable, multifarious work of the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988). “Playdate” also coincides with “Start!” (through December 15), an exhibition organized by the curator and historian Glenn Adamson at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Midtown Manhattan that pairs pieces by Stadler with works by Artschwager (1923–2013). (A twelfth bowling ball from the series in the Glass House Sculpture Gallery is on display in the Carpenters show, opposite one of Artschwager’s “Yes/No” pieces.) For Stadler, the Noguchi, Artschwager, and Johnson exhibitions are all part of what he views as a long continuum of questioning, prodding, and tearing down any preconceived borders between art and design. As a historical precedent of this, Stadler cites Noguchi’s United States Pavilion installation at the 1986 Venice Biennale, in which Noguchi installed Akari light sculptures throughout the interior galleries and placed his massive, usable “Slide Mantra” sculpture at the entrance. Certain traditionalists were scathing, with one Financial Times critic calling the lamps and slide in particular “merely silly.” “Isn't it really strange,” Stadler says, “that we still have to talk about this today? It still seems to be a slippery ground.”

When Stadler and I enter the Glass House, he turns to me with a grin and says, “The idea here was to turn the Glass House into a greenhouse, where these engineered fruits and vegetables might have grown.” By “these engineered fruits” he’s referring to his new “OMG-GMO” series of ceramic sculptures, made in collaboration with the Italian ceramics company Bitossi, that serve as a critical (and hilarity-ensuing) commentary on how humans have manipulated nature through genetically modified organisms. Cucumbers stack atop an avocado base to become the “Size Matters” lamp; bananas and rhubarb create the “Mute Mix” clothing rack; oversized carrots merge into the “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. The decorative becomes structural and vice versa.

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The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Courtesy The Glass House)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Courtesy The Glass House)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Size Matters” lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Mute Mix” clothing rack. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Courtesy The Glass House)
The “Tetra Yum” lemon sculpture. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
The “Tip Toe” tripod table lamp. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

This is the power of the “OMG-GMO” pieces, particularly in this setting: It’s a serious place, but let’s be real, it’s not that serious. Of Johnson, Lewis adds, with a laugh, “​​He liked his fruits and vegetables.”

A bit later, Stadler and I are sitting on his gray marble “Ditto” chairs on the main lawn, just up the hill opposite the Glass House and next to the pool. Stadler tells me that the “OMG-GMO” project, which came to fruition during Covid-19 lockdowns, is “very different from most of the things I've done. I really enjoyed my own uncertainty as to why I was doing it. Like, is this too much? What am I even doing here?”

Stadler brings up Artschwager in this context. “In a way, he questions the identity of everyday objects by turning them into something like three-dimensional images, and for sure into sculptures, and for sure into something with no claim for function anymore. I enjoy the question of the identity of objects as well. But I don't want to lose the function. So what I'm trying to do with some of my work is to see if it's possible to do both in the same object—this questioning aspect, but then for the object to still have a function as an object of design.”

Robert Stadler at The Glass House, with his “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool behind him. (Photo: Michael Biondo)
Robert Stadler at The Glass House, with his “Juicy Joseph” seat-stool behind him. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

We get up and begin making our way toward Da Monsta, a funky, red and black structure, completed in 1995, that’s as much a building as it is a sculpture. From certain vantages, Da Monsta appears to protrude from the landscape, like a fin out of water. Inside, Stadler’s “Soft Screen” light sculpture made of onyx and Pietra di Vicenza marble is positioned next to one of his “New Paintings” marble-topped dining tables; in an adjacent room, a screen displays animated NFTs of the “OMG-GMO” pieces, which effectively become cartoon characters.

I ask Lewis what, exactly, about Stadler’s work lends itself well to the Glass House in particular. “First of all,” she says, “it’s a beautiful combination of elegance and wit, which seems to me to symbolize exactly the kind of spirit that Johnson and David Whitney exhibited here. Also, just the sense of very much being in the now. That was something that was always the ethos of the place. It wasn't about looking backwards… Our spirit has always been, ‘What’s next?’ When Johnson passed away, we were working on a book called Fast Forward. That gives you some sense that, at 98 years old, his mindset was very much in that sensibility.”

She continues, “The idea of something utilitarian turned into something extraordinary was very much Johnson. Everything that was placed in that house had to be placed as a work of art.” Of Stadler’s “Juicy Joseph” watermelon seat-stool, which slyly references the work of the Austrian-Moravian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), she says, “I think Philip would have laughed his head off at that. I think David would have laughed even more.”

Lewis points out to me that Stadler’s presentation follows, in addition to exhibitions by artists such as David Hartt, Robert Indiana, and Jennie C. Jones, one by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who in 2016 covered the Glass House’s walls in a screen of red dots, turning the structure into an “infinity room”; placed a reflective steel pumpkin sculpture on the hillside where Stadler’s “Ditto” installation now sits; and created “Narcissus Garden,” comprising 1,300 floating steel spheres, in the pond. As with Kusama’s interventions, Stadler’s pieces, while largely functional (the bowling balls are an arguable exception), defy categorization. Both Kusama’s and Stadler’s works exude a sense of childlike wonder.

Considering “Playdate” as a whole gets me thinking about Stader’s 2014 exhibition “Quiz,” which he co-curated as a resistance to definable typologies via “unidentifiable objects” that intrigue, confuse, or mix up any preconceived notions of what exactly they might be. From Paul Cocksedge’s “Marble Bookmark” (2010) to Naoto Fukasawa’s donut-shaped humidifier, from Zaha Hadid’s Nova shoe (2013) to Enzo Mari’s Bambù vase (1969), the presentation embraced the unrecognizable. In creating the Glass House, Johnson sought to form a refuge within this sort of blurred-lines gray zone, a netherland region merging art and design, craft and industry, man and machine, architecture and nature. As “Playdate” illustrates and affirms, this, too, is Stadler’s sweet spot.

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Courtesy ArtReview

ArtReview’s Podcast Collages Audio Out of Artists’ Life and Work

One episode begins with sputtering phonemes. Another plays back organized cries of dissent from the 2019 Hong Kong protests. In a third, virtuosic jazz guitarist Pat Metheny plays a few bars from a sweet, nylon-string track before the music fades and becomes a soundbed over which Ross Simonini, artist, writer, and host of the podcast, begins an aural investigation into the musician’s lifelong engagement with sound. Episode after episode, Simonini chases a similar depth with a sly and often behind-the-curtain approach, splicing interviews and disparate worlds of sound together to create ArtReview’s formally experimental podcast, Subject, Object, Verb.

Courtesy A Space

This Collection of Hand-Carved, Noguchi-Inspired Bowls Imbues Spaces With an Earthy Essence

In 2020, the Noguchi Museum opened “The Sculptor and the Ashtray”—an intimate, one-room exhibition chronicling the artist’s pursuit to create the perfect ashtray. The negative space employed in Isamu Noguchi’s designs, as well as the show’s culminating statement about design and its power to shape the modern world, inspired designers Anna Aristova and Roza Gazarian, founders of New York–based studio A Space, to make a collection of hand-carved bowls, produced from special material—Lebanese cedar—that has a signature balsamic scent.

Courtesy Slow Factory

A Garment Recycling Program Confronts Global Textile Waste Head-On

In co-founding Slow Factory in 2012—a Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to advocating for slow fashion and advancing climate justice and social equity—Lebanese-Canadian designer, writer, and researcher Céline Semaan—the latest guest on our Time Sensitive podcast—created a platform to further one of her life missions: to replace socially and environmentally harmful and outdated systems with replicable, zero-waste solutions.

Ji Hye Kim. (Courtesy Miss Kim)

An Ann Arbor Restaurant Fuses Korean Tradition with Modern-Day Michigan Ingredients

When Ji Hye Kim first moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, she didn’t find much that resembled the homemade Korean cooking she’d grown up with. In 2016, in an effort to fill this gap, she opened Miss Kim, where her aim is to fuse traditional Korean recipes—like those her mother would cook—with the distinct produce of Michigan and the Midwest. But Kim, who was named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs of 2021, didn’t always see a culinary career in her future.

Elizabeth Dee. (Courtesy Independent Art Fair)

Elizabeth Dee on Rethinking the Canon of 20th-Century Art

Since 1997, when she founded her eponymous (now shuttered) gallery, Elizabeth Dee has been a fixture of the New York art scene, a doer and seer known for having her finger on the pulse. A multi-hyphenate collector, curator, and writer, her robust resumé includes authoring monographs about artists such as Josephine Meckseper, Ryan Trecartin, and Meredyth Sparks; a stint as director of the John Giorno Foundation, a position from which she’s stepping down this month; and her most high-profile role, as co-founder and CEO of New York’s Independent Art Fair. An elegant, tightly curated event that remains an outlier in its efforts to elevate overlooked, underrepresented, and unsung galleries or artists, and an Independent champions discovery. True to its name, the fair, which Dee created with Matthew Higgs in 2009, stands out from the global art-circuit pack for its intimacy, intricacy, and consistent high quality.

Courtesy Mack Books

A New Book Captures the Magnificent Breadth and Melancholic Beauty of Alec Soth’s Photography

What does it mean to revisit a photograph? When a camera shutters, it locks a moment in time, forever trapping the image it renders. That well-trod notion, however universally understood, becomes unsteady in Gathered Leaves, the latest book by the Minneapolis-based photographer Alec Soth, whose work has long documented lonely souls and fractured dreams in spaces across the United States. In Gathered Leaves, Soth revisits five of his previous books, including in its pages new notes, annotations, text excerpts, and even photographs—melding his works into a distinct and retrospective road trip across his accomplished career.

Akebia flowers at the Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (left) and co-founders Allyson Levy and Scott Serrano (right). (Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing)

From Their 21-Acre New York Estate, a Botanist Couple Propagates Plants and Gardening Know-How

Scott Serrano and Allyson Levy know all too well that the distinction between a simply beautiful garden and an “important” one comes from its most fragile or unusual plants. “It’s the Noah’s Ark function,” Serrano says. “You try to find rare plants that are disappearing and protect them.”

The Isle Royale in Lake Superior, one of the sites rendered digitally in “A Species Between Worlds.” (Courtesy Life Calling Initiative)

An Exhibition Ponders Technology’s Grip on Human “Reality”

In 2016, a stampede of people flooded the streets of Taipei, stopping garbage trucks and buses in the wake of their single-minded pursuit. What unified so many to disrupt the rhythms of everyday life couldn’t be seen by anyone outside of the crowd, because it wasn’t anywhere “outside” for them to see. The answer rested in the smart devices of the procession’s members, leading them on through the popular Pokémon Go app, a game that—this should seem obvious now that we’re in 2022—lets users look at an augmented world through their phone’s camera, overlaying reality with virtual Pokémon to be discovered (in the case of the Taipei crowd, an ultra-rare Snorlax).

Courtesy Yale University Press

A Sonic Journey Inspired by the Expansive Landscapes of the Nordic Region

Music put out by artists from the Nordic region—an emerging hotbed for progressive musicians such as the prolific singer-songwriter Björk and the post-rock powerhouse Sigur Rós—often stems from the region’s moody, expansive landscapes; severe season changes; and in their pursuit of stable democracies, individual freedom, and economic growth, historic political struggles.

Courtesy MSCHF

MSCHF Highlights the Absurdities of Modern Consumerism—and Makes Money Doing It

An ice cream truck selling $10 popsicles in the shape of Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Musk’s multibillion-dollar visages. A service delivering A.I.-generated foot images with Magritte undertones. A $1,000 chimera of extracurricular participation trophies made for Tiffany’s. These high-concept pranks are the sort of off-kilter creations one can expect from the Brooklyn-based outfit MSCHF, a start-up accelerator of absurd and attention-grabbing stunts.

A skate park designed by Saario in Columbus, Indiana. (Photo: Hadley Fruits. Courtesy Janne Saario)

Janne Saario Subtly Integrates Skate Parks Into Landscapes and Cities

For Janne Saario, a former professional skateboarder turned skate park designer, the best skate parks exist in harmony with their landscapes, streetscapes, and communities. “It's always a new story in every project,” he says.

From left: Courtesy Krystal. Courtesy Jewlieah.

The TikTok “Vabbing” Trend, Explained

You’re on TikTok, looking for something, but you don’t know what. You wander down what seems to be a promising path, turn a corner and encounter a pleasant-looking woman with balloonish words hovering over her—“VABBING 101”—and you pause.

“Communicating Vessels” by Jenny Gräf Sheppard, on at the Sound Studies Lab through fall 2023. (Courtesy Sound Studies Lab)

A Lab in Copenhagen Looks at How Sound Explains the World

Holger Schulze runs the Sound Studies Lab at the University of Copenhagen, where scholars and artists gather to explore sonic and sensory experiences. There, researchers trace the aural rhythms of our lives and of the societies we inhabit—both historically and in the present. Mixing field research and critical analysis, the lab tackles projects ranging from the birth of rave culture in the late Soviet Union to how the dramatic effects of climate change manifest in sound.

Lidewij Edelkoort. (Photo: Thirza Schaap)

Lidewij Edelkoort Starts Up a New Master’s Program in Sustainable Textile Production

As one of the world’s foremost trend forecasters, Lidewij Edelkoort has advised companies ranging from Coca-Cola to Lacoste on everything from how to communicate with emerging youth archetypes to how to expand into new fields of interest outside of fashion. But perhaps her most well-known effort is her production of trend books—under her Paris-based company, Trend Union—that forecast market movements two or more years in advance. In the textile industry, her research has been used by fashion houses such as Armani and Prada.