Since I’m reviewing The Fountainhead, I thought this was highly appropriate to photograph. It’s an art exhibit in Central Park called Open House, consisting of baroque concrete chairs, sofas and arches that are duplicates of those that once adorned a famous Gilded Age ballroom. Ayn Rand’s modernist hero Howard Roark, with his insistence that anything but completely new and original architecture is a blight on the earth, would have hated this on sight – especially since it’s meant as a comment on inequality.
At the turn of the 20th century, New York City’s wealthy elite gathered in opulent private ballrooms to define their social status. In contrast, Central Park granted democratic access to public space when it was established in the 1850s as one of the nation’s first urban parks. Open House is a new commission by Los Angeles-based artist Liz Glynn that highlights these historic class distinctions. It references one of the grandest Fifth Avenue interiors designed by Gilded Age architect Stanford White: the now-demolished William C. Whitney Ballroom.
Open House transforms Doris C. Freedman Plaza into an open air ballroom where only scattered furniture and arches remain eight blocks south from the original mansion. Glynn’s lavish Louis XIV sofas, chairs, and footstools evoke the historic home, but with a twist — these objects feature sculpted additions and are cast in concrete, a populist material more commonly seen in modern architecture. With this revision, the artist invites the public to enjoy a previously exclusive interior space that is now open and accessible to all. In this strange facsimile, Glynn addresses the evolving face of a city: who has access to space in a society that is increasingly divided along socio-economic lines?