Modernist Pilgrimage to New York Part 2

My last visit to New York in April was a bit of a manic rush so I only had time to visit about 70% of the niche interest places I wanted to see. I made sure that I visited the remaining 30% when I went back in September.

Guggenheim Museum

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Before visiting New York, I mistakenly (and rather ignorantly) believed that it would be a city full of mid century architecture, which I now know not to be the case. I blame images of the iconic, futuristic Guggenheim Museum for putting these ideas in my head. Nestled in between turn of the century apartment blocks on the Upper East Side, the Guggenheim’s modernist grey curves stick out like a (very beautiful) sore thumb.

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Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959, the cylindrical building, wider at the top than the bottom, is rightly considered a landmark work of 20th-century architecture and has been used extensively as a filming location for various films and tv shows whenever a dramatic retro/futuristic interior has been required. Inside, the gallery essentially consists of a long ramp (not unlike that of a multi-storey carpark) extending up from ground level in a long, continuous spiral along the outer edges of the building to end just under the ceiling skylight. Even though it seemed familiar (probably from those aforementioned TV shows and films), it was well worth visiting in person.

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Brooklyn Flea – Fort Greene

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I had high hopes for this flea market in Fort Greene, a gentrified yet still characterful Brooklyn neighbourhood that I stayed in the last time I visited New York. Unfortunately the market was a bit of a disappointment, comparing unfavourably to my favourite junk yards in Berlin and Copenhagen. Whilst there was a good variety and abundance of stands, the setup was a bit too professional (and therefore expensive) for my tastes. Stock consisted of vintage clothes, the odd bit of furniture but primarily kitschy Americana. I didn’t leave with grubby carrier bags full of toot (the only mark of a successful flea market outing in my book).

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Glass House, New Canaan

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The Glass House is a historic house museum located in the centre of a sprawling estate in New Canaan, Connecticut. Built in 1949, it was designed by modernist architect Philip Johnson and crudely put, consists of a glass walled cuboid.

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Visiting the house as part of a meticulously organised and run architectural tour, I was struck by how impractical it must have been to live in (the architect Philip Johnson, who must have had an exhibitionist streak and hardly any possessions, apparently used it as his own residence): the kitchen, living, dining and sleeping areas were all in one open-plan room, which was divided only by low walnut cabinets and no curtains or blinds to speak of. The only concession to practicality/modesty was a brick cylinder in the middle of the room, which contained the bathroom. However, even when plastered in a (temporary) pox of ugly red dots applied by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, its elegance and timelessness as a piece of modernist architecture was undeniable.

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The beautiful, wooded estate also contained other architecturally interesting buildings designed by the Philip Johnson at various points in his career. It was a bit of a trek to get to (about an hour and a half from downtown Manhattan) and surprisingly difficult to get hold of tickets but I would wholeheartedly recommend making the effort.

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