An Art and Design Exhibition Engulfs a Modernist Home in Upstate New York
By: Gabriella Angeleti
The hybrid fair Object & Thing—an enterprise of the former Frieze artistic director Abby Bangser—aims to transcend the typical demarcations between art, design and architecture. This spring marks their second collaboration with Blum and Poe and Mendes Wood DM, this time in a Modernist home designed by the American architect Gerald Luss in Ossining—around an hour from Manhattan—that previously served as his family home in the 1950s. The cantilevered house has been emptied of the current owner’s belongings and flooded with meticulously curated works primarily offered by the galleries and artists selected by Bangser. The pieces aim to be in “dialogue with the house, and with one another”, she says.
The fair was launched in 2019 in Brooklyn with the aim of disrupting the traditional fair model by offering exhibitors a fee on sales rather than stands. The inaugural edition featured more than 30 galleries, but subsequent editions were scaled down both to adjust to social distancing requirements and to offer visitors a more unique fair-going experience. Last year's edition had around 10 galleries on the roster and was similarly held in a Modernist home in New Canaan, Connecticut, designed by Eliot Noyes. It was perhaps one of the only art fairs to take place in the US during the pandemic, drawing around 10,000 visitors. “We were able to—and are able to—provide a safe viewing experience, which is a major advantage,” Bangser says.
The Luss House, which is made from wood and glass and amplified by the woodlands around it, itself is a gem that provides “some different ways of looking at contemporary art and design in dialogue with architecture”, Bangser says. The result is something that feels radically alive and fresh in comparison to the warehouses and convention centres that typically house art fairs.
Bangser also hopes the experience will inspire visitors to learn more about Luss and his epic contributions to design and architecture. “His legacy hasn’t been preserved like it should because he was mostly designing corporate interiors that often change quickly, unlike private residences,” she says. “But he’s made so many wonderful contributions and deserves his due.”
Gerald Luss, a Pratt Institute alum described as a “wunderkind designer” from an early age, is best known for his Time & Life building in midtown Manhattan and other well-known corporate projects. The Luss House was built as his family home in 1955 before the family opted to move from Ossining back to Manhattan, and also served as a frequent meeting place for Time & Life executives. “He thought about every single inch and component of the house, and his energy is still very much here,” Bangser says. “You can almost imagine him pulling up in his yellow Corvette as you walk through this house.” Luss was an active collaborator in the arrangement of the fair, she adds. Several clocks he designed are on display throughout the show, including a pendulum clock that is eclectically placed next to the bath.
All of the furniture found in the Luss House has been designed by Gerald Luss or by the Brooklyn-based design duo Green River Project, who made the aluminum table and chairs pictured. Aaron Aujla and Benjamin Bloomstein were not trained in furniture-making—giving their works an wabi-sabi quality. The duo collaborated with Luss and are said to have looked to his practice for inspiration in their work.
The chef and ceramicist Johnny Ortiz, previously the chef-in-residence at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, fires these micaceous clay pots on full moons. “He believes it gives more cosmic energy to the piece and a more intense blackness, and that the mica evokes the stars,” Bangser says. Micaceous pottery—like this bean pot, plates and mezcal cup—is also said to give food a higher alkaline balance, making it taste better. The vessels are paired with a series of fully-functional tea vessels by the Venice-based Japanese artist Ritsue Mishima.
The sun-drenched parlor features a sofa and coffee table by Gerald Luss from the 1950s designed specifically for this house; various wood-fired terracotta and porcelain planters by Frances Palmer that are topped with flowers form the artist’s own garden; an aluminum and leather lounge chair by Green River Projects; and Cecily Brown’s Reasons to Be Cheerful (2020-2021) above the fireplace.
The Rio de Janeiro-based Spanish artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané is “very much interested in the intersection between architecture and nature”, Bangser says. He worked with images of the house to create Systemic Grid 124 (Window) (2019) which sits on a replica of a base designed by the late Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. “The refraction of the glass interrupts how you’re looking at nature, and every hour is completely different,” Bangser adds.
The house and garden features various sculptures and two site-specific installations by the prominent Japanese sculptor Kishio Suga, including Dispersed Spaces (2015/2021) that has been made from 20 ft-tall fishing rods tethered by concrete bases. The work is an expanded iteration of the installation mostly recently shown at Blum & Poe’s terrace in New York in 2015.
In one of the several bedrooms in the Luss House, a chaise Luss designed in the 1950s is adorned with a tapestry by the textile artist Kiva Motnyk, who creates works using natural dyes and fabrics collected from around the world. “She calls these works tapestries but they can also be wall hangings, or functional quilts,” Bangser says. The centrepiece of the room is Ideal Location (2021) by the Brooklyn-based artist Eddie Martinez.
On the opposite side of this room, Alma Allen’s black marble sculpture Not Yet Titled (2020) is paired with a vibrant painting by the Brazilian artist Marina Perez Simão, who recently had a major exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York, while Kiva Motnyk’s Afternoon Light - Multi (2020) is draped over the glass wall leading to the backyard, creating a soft stained glass effect.