Central Park was designed in 1858 as a place where New York’s social classes could mingle in idyllic surroundings, a democratic experiment. The Gilded Age mansions that sprung up adjacent to the park along Fifth Avenue, however, were anything but.
Well-born financier William Whitney commissioned the architect Stanford White to furnish his home at 871 Fifth Avenue with a new ballroom, completed in 1901, that could host 1,000 of New York’s elite for an annual party, including the Astors, the Vanderbilts, and the Morgans.
“This was the first of its kind built just to be used as a ballroom once a year, not doubling as a gallery or drawing room,” says the artist
, who is turning this extravagant interior inside out in her Public Art Fund
exhibition “Open House,” beginning March 1st in the plaza at the 60th street entrance to the park.
There, eight blocks south of where the now-demolished mansion once stood—and just four blocks north of another gilded interior in the Trump Tower, where people have been flocking in protest—Glynn has installed 26 cast concrete sculptures that create what she calls an “open-air ruin” of the ballroom. The installation poses questions about just who has access to space, then and now.
Five massive archways, based on the dimensions of the ballroom’s windows, architecturally frame a “room” and, like Roman gateways, invite people in. Replicas of sofas, chairs, and footstools modeled on Whitney’s Louis XIV-style furniture are scattered within the arches in social configurations.
“They are copies of copies,” says Glynn, explaining how White bought antiques in Europe and had a fabricator in New York knock off multiples (in keeping with the Gilded Age taste for European patina and pedigree).