The Glass House, architect Philip Johnson’s semi-transparent former home, has a way of disappearing into the landscape of its surrounding 49 green acres in New Canaan, Connecticut. This month, though, it's wearing a party hat: The Glass House is the latest target of Yayoi Kusama’s Pepsi red polka dots, an installation series called “Dots Obsession” that’s marking what would be Johnson’s 110th birthday, and 10 years of the site being open to the public.
During her late-career resurgence, Kusama has been leaving her polka-dotted mark on everything and everyone from Airbnb beds to George Clooney. In late 2014, the team at the Glass House began dredging the property’s pond, a nearly year-long process whose completion curator Irene Shum decided merited a celebration. It’s a tricky space for an art intervention — the meadow covers over half of the property — but Kusama’s “Narcissus Garden” installation, first orchestrated 50 years ago at the 1966 Venice Biennale, immediately came to Shum’s mind. She reached out to Kusama’s studio in Japan directly, and “they were game,” Shum recalled.
Freshly made over, the pond was soon filled with 1,300 of Kusama’s floating, stainless steel orbs, a takeover of the lower half of the estate announced near the entrance with another Kusama trademark — a giant, reflective pumpkin. But the ever ambitious artist, who’s now 87, wasn’t finished; she asked Shum if she could show more recent work, too. Kusama was itching to try out her window installations, which started out as a commercial venture with Louis Vuitton at Selfridges in London, in a place that would lend itself more to a site-specific installation.
What better place to test things out than a house made entirely of glass?
But old age doesn’t exactly lend itself to flying between Japan and Connecticut. From her home studio, Kusama finalized the dot pattern herself and sent teams out from both her studio and gallery to install them personally. Each dot is cut out from vinyl and, with very specific instructions, applied one by one using scaffolding. “They’re very, very particular about their polka dot placement,” Shum said with a laugh.
The attention to detail paid off. Because of the reflective nature of the Glass House, once inside, visitors can see up to five layers of dots at once — an effect that brings to mind Kusama’s endlessly Instagrammed infinity rooms, and one that would no doubt appeal to Johnson’s predilection for interventions in nature.
After all, the pond was of his own making: He had it constructed in 1957, the same year Kusama moved to America, and began making the art that Johnson collected himself, and would later donate to MoMA. And after Johnson and the Glass House celebrate their birthdays (“Dots Obsession” comes down on September 26), Kusama will be celebrating hers. Starting in 2017, she will be creating no less than six infinity rooms in a career-capping exhibition that’ll travel the world until she turns 90.