Public Art Fund’s Spring Show Will Turn Central Park Into a Gilded Age Ballroom

Is it a theater of opulence or an 'open-air ruin'?

Liz Glynn, cast concrete chair from Open House. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery. Photo by Liz Ligon, courtesy of Public Art Fund.
Liz Glynn, cast concrete chair from Open House. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery. Photo by Liz Ligon, courtesy of Public Art Fund.

The newest attraction at Central Park, which operates as New Yorkers’ collective backyard, will be a recreation of a Gilded Age ballroom courtesy of Los Angeles-based artist Liz Glynn. The Public Art Fund project, titled Open House, will merge the park’s Doris C. Freedman Plaza, a space that now welcomes New Yorkers of all stripes, with one that was once accessible only to the upper crust of society.

“Faced with a growing development boom and an influx of what are referred to as the ‘ultra-rich’, New York City’s socio-economic landscape is undergoing massive changes,” said Public Art Fund associate curator Daniel S. Palmer in a statement. “By reinterpreting an artifact of a period marked by incredible financial growth—and disparity—Glynn connects our present moment to this historical era and makes it accessible to the public.”

The 26-piece installation will feature cast concrete sculptures based on the sofas, chairs, footstools, and arches (Louis XIV-, Louis XV-, and Louis XVI-era antiques and reproductions) that once adorned the ballroom at the long-gone William C. Whitney mansion.

“The idea,” Glynn told the New York Times, “is turning this rarefied, extremely private space into an open-air ruin. The title refers to the current real estate market and the question of who can afford to live here anymore.”

The ballroom of the William C. Whitney mansion. Courtesy of Mansions of the Gilded Age.

The ballroom of the William C. Whitney mansion. Courtesy of Mansions of the Gilded Age.

The project is one that resonates, particularly with the new skyscraper apartment buildings that are springing up along the park’s south edge, with price tags far beyond the means of those outside the one percent. Millionaire politician Whitney, who held exclusive events and parties in his French chateau-style ballroom, designed by famed architect Stanford White, is a fitting inspiration.

His brownstone building stood at Fifth Avenue and 68th Street, just eight blocks from the planned art installation at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park. It was razed following the 1942 death of its last occupant, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Whitney’s daughter-in-law and the founder of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

According to Palmer, Glynn’s “installation poses important questions about how we create displays of wealth and the ways in which distinctions between public and private space continue to reinforce and reflect class differences.”

Currently, the plaza is home to David ShrigleyMEMORIAL, a monumental sculpture of a grocery list, on view through February 12, 2017.

Liz Glynn’s Open House will be on view in Central Park, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Fifth Avenue at 60th Street; March 1–September 24, 2017.


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