Wallpaper: Art and Design Combine at Eliot Noyes’ Modernist Residence

October 26, 2020

Pei-Ru Keh

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Art and Design Combine at Eliot Noyes’ Modernist Residence
By: Pei-Ru Keh 

While many of the year’s art and design exhibitions have been seamlessly and successfully moved online, a triumvirate of New York galleries are making a case for the in-person experience with a collaborative exhibition of art and design set within the rich architectural history of New Canaan in Connecticut.

A contemporary exhibition of art and design

Blum & Poe, Mendes Wood DM and the fledgling art and design fair Object & Thing, which would have held its second edition this year, have joined efforts to stage an immersive presentation of contemporary works within the Noyes House – the historic modernist family home of industrial designer and architect Eliot Noyes, one of the fabled Harvard Five.

The exhibition’s inception was largely down to Abby Bangser, the founder of Object & Thing, and her familiarity with the architectural gems and treasures of the region. Bangser moved to New Canaan six years ago with her husband Matt Bangser, a partner in Blum & Poe. As a member of an advisory committee helping the Noyes family to establish future possibilities for the house, Bangser knew ‘that [an exhibition of] contemporary art and design would be beautiful in the house and that [it would] allow for others to learn about Eliot Noyes and New Canaan’s architectural history.’ 

‘It was obvious that Object & Thing as a fair, gathering thousands of people, would not be a possibility this year, so I wanted to find a way to allow for a safe physical experience with art and design,’ she shares, adding, ‘Mendes Wood DM often collaborates with Blum & Poe and its founders Pedro Mendes, Matthew Wood and Felipe Dmab have a strong vision and value for art, architecture and nature - values also reflected in the Noyes House. They were independently considering a different Modernist house in Connecticut for exhibitions and projects and so it quickly became a very natural collaboration among us all. In collaborating together, we are able to bring together an incredibly international exhibition of works in a wide range of media to this one house.’

Eliot Noyes’ legacy

Nodding to the house’s iconic architecture and Noyes’ own design ethos as well, the exhibition ‘At the Noyes House’ includes the works of artists including Alma Allen, Lynda Benglis, Sonia Gomes, Green River Project LLC and Kazunori Hamana, amongst others. Noyes was not only known for his architectural practice, but also served as a consultant director of design at IBM, where he designed the Selectric typewriter. He was also a curator of industrial design at the Museum of Modern Art and played a significant role in championing the careers of Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames.

Fred Noyes, the son of Eliot Noyes, says, ‘My father conceived of the architecture of the house as a backdrop to seamlessly mingle art with daily life. As I grew up, new artworks were continuously introduced, unfettered by period or style, and existing pieces rearranged as life changed. This exciting exhibition is a direct continuation of that tradition of bringing fresh ideas to the house. We welcome visitors to experience the house as it is transformed by these unique works of art and design, showing the flexibility of which it was designed. My father would have been delighted.’ 

At the Noyes House

The layout of the exhibition and the placement of the art and objects were both greatly inspired by the house. In its central courtyard, a 9 ½ foot bronze sculpture by Alma Allen has been placed in homage to the original, site-specific commission: Alexander Calder’s ‘Black Beast II’, which was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in the 1990s.  A concrete pad, which would have also originally had a table and set of chairs on it, now displays a set of outdoor furniture, specially designed by Green River Project LLC. ‘

Archival images of the house from the 1950s and 1960s show the living room’s coffee table in constant use with objects such as a Pablo Picasso vase filled with flowers or an Isamu Noguchi sculpture,’ Bangser reveals. ‘We wanted to reference this in our placement of objects and have placed, on the very same table, a significant ceramic by American sculptor Lynda Benglis and two of Jim McDowell’s face jugs, made in the southern African American tradition, but charged with contemporary political statements. The idea of being in a house where objects are not only for display, but for use was also present to us.’

Elsewhere, a sculpture by Sonia Gomes hangs from the very same hook where the Noyes family used to have a mobile by Alexander Calder near their dining table. Pools of natural light inside the house also make the most of Gaetano Pesce’s drip resin vases and Faye Toogood’s crystal ‘Cup High / Water’. Within a pair of back barn doors outside, a site-specific installation by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané within a pair of back barn doors that frames a view of the surrounding landscape creates yet another breathtaking moment. 

‘As organisers, we knew that this is a time for new models,’ Bangser concludes. ‘Visitors recognise the need for making advance reservations and keeping reservations limited to household groups due to the pandemic. This level of restricted access is something we would have needed to do at the Noyes House, even without the pandemic, given the residential environment.’ 

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