by Shraddha NairMay 07, 2022
Situated in New Canaan, Connecticut, the Noyes House was designed and built by Eliot Noyes for himself and his family in 1955. While the house is beautifully preserved today, the reaction to its linear architecture that is today seen as sitting entirely in harmony with its natural surroundings was just as adverse as it was for a number of contemporary modernist houses that sprang up in the neighbourhood following the Noyes House, including the iconic Glass House by Philip Johnson, and Marcel Breuer’s house; the “Harvard-Five” as they were known. New Canaan then became one of the testing grounds for mid-20th century American modernism. This incredible setting paved the way for a trio of organisations: Object & Thing, which enterprises as a new-model fair, and art galleries Blum & Poe and Mendes Wood DM to set the Noyes House as a stage for a contemporary intervention: a house doubled up as a gallery as renowned and commissioned works of art and design filled the space once again.
Characteristic of modernist homes, the Noyes House too opened up to its great outdoors through its steel and glass walls, and framed them in rubble masonry walls in local fieldstone. Noyes and his wife Molly had a creative eye for using artefacts to decorate their New Canaan home, including works from Calder, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and others. While many of the artworks and designer pieces that earlier populated the house have now found new buyers and homes, the trio of organisations saw it as an opportunity to repopulate the modernist canvas. While the exhibition ran from September 15 - November 28, STIR revisits the artful redux of an iconic space that is as blank as a fresh canvas, and as expressive as a close up on its exquisite texture.
The exhibition features a wide-range of works, including a number of site-specific pieces inspired by the iconic home and its history. Many of the works were produced over the course of this year as the “space of our homes, the function of design and one’s experience with art has been reconceived and reconsidered”. The exhibition brings together just over 80 works from 34 international artists and designers, including Lynda Benglis, Sonia Gomes, Green River Project LLC, Mark Grotjahn, Kazunori Hamana, Sheila Hicks, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Antonio Obá, Gaetano Pesce, and Faye Toogood, among others. In addition to the organising galleries, Object & Thing is presenting works contributed by art and design galleries including Ago Projects, Demisch Danant, Friedman Benda, Nonaka-Hill, Pace Gallery, Patrick Parrish Gallery, Salon 94 Design and Tiwa Select.
Opening to the public for the first time since 1955, the old paves the way for the new at the Noyes House: where once stood the Black Beast II in the courtyard , the iconic large-scale stabile sculpture by Alexander Calder, now bequeathed to the MoMA by Noyes himself, a new towering sculpture in bronze by Alma Allen welcomes visitors. In place of the house’s slatted table and chairs, a striking onyx like furniture suite including four chairs and a coffee table by Green River Project LLC adorns the area now. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s yet untitled aluminium curtain conceived for the courtyard’s back doorway, frames the surrounding wooden landscape. Mark Grotjahn’s latest from his recent series, Capri, highlights the wall above the living room fireplace. The piece is the artist’s first horizontally oriented work in over two decades.
The colourful sheath on the platform bed in the master bedroom is Megumi Arai’s boro textile piece, titled Large Bedspread. As a grim reminder of America’s history and the events that shook the collective conscience of it this year, an evocative piece by Afro-Brazilian artist Antonio Obá pays homage to George Floyd. Titled Wade in the Water, II, the soulfully grim painting hangs over the bed in the same bedroom. Sonia Gomes’ biomorphic sculpture of stitched fabric from her Pendentes series hangs in the living space of the home, responding beautifully to it and alluding to the house’s rich history. Crafted in the Afro-American tradition, the politically charged face jugs of Jim McDowell, titled Two-Face and Warrior Queen are inscribed with the messages “Love trumps Hate”, or “If you want freedom, keep moving”, by Harriet Tubman, and adorn the reading room.
Gaetano Pesce’s bright, striking vases set a distinguishing tone between the interior and outward looking spaces of the house, ranging between opaque and translucent, but always alive in saturated hues. Some of these include the black and green Drip Vase near the living room’s glass wall where the Noyes family kept their house plants, another drip and a Tube Vase in the master bedroom, and the most striking among them, the Large Red Pebble Vase next to the fireplace. Connecticut-based ceramicist, Frances Palmer, filled her wood kiln fired vessels with seasonal flowers straight from her garden, replenished throughout the exhibition every visit day.
Ceramic displays certainly reign supreme in the Noyes House, as works by Lynda Benglis can be found on the piano top as well as on the living room’s coffee table. Benglis’ works are inspired from her own exploration and experience of the medium of clay and the gender disparity that arose from it during the early 1990s. Near the piano is a sculpture on the floor by Arlene Shechet, who made Relative, a seemingly deconstructivist piece, with the Noyes House in mind.