Braintree Native Creates Gilded Age,Concrete Furniture to Spark Conversation about Access to Space

July 13, 2018
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From a very young age, Liz Glynn knew she wanted to be an artist. The daughter of an architect and an engineer, Glynn grew up in Braintree and studied at Harvard University before earning her MFA at California Institute of the Arts in 2008.

Glynn said she likes to think about understanding the world through objects and “taking actions on physical things,” which certainly applies to her latest installation coming to Boston on July 26.

The installation, called Open House, was originally presented last year at Central Park in New York City by the Public Art Fund. The installation consists of pieces of Gilded Age furniture cast in concrete that take the form of the private ballroom of William C. Whitney in the late 19th century.

Kate Gilbert, executive director of public art curator Now + There, said that she’s excited to bring this work to Boston because the organization likes to support artists who are from Boston and whose works all have a component of interactivity. People can come and have a meeting, a  picnic, or just take a selfie with the intricately designed concrete furniture.

But the artwork isn’t just meant to be admired with the eye. Glynn wants it to spark a conversation about who has access to quality space in the city.

Glynn said she was originally invited by the Public Art Fund in New York City to develop a public art project. She said she studied texts about how the use of Central Park by people was a problem, which she said “to me seemed to be the very purpose of a public park.”

“As someone who left NYC in part because of the lack of affordable workspace,” Glynn, now a resident of Los Angeles, thought about creating a piece that addressed the issue of access to certain spaces. “The economics of real estate shapes a society,” Glynn said. “That’s fundamentally what the piece is thinking about.”

“The public is invited to not only come and sit on the furniture, but also begin to reflect on where we are right now in our socioeconomic times,” Gilbert said, “and how closely the divide is today as it was in the Gilded Age when the ballroom that the artwork is referencing was created.”

Glynn said she came to sculpture through photography. She was “terrified” of sculpting with her hands, so she found that casting was a way for her to enter into the realm of sculpture without having to mold her creations with her hands.

She said that concrete is a material that has always appealed to her, since it was invented by the Romans and used by architects to create block forms. It is also a utilitarian material that would not be seen anywhere in the private ballroom of William C. Whitney. It was tricky to use in this project, she said, because some concrete particles tend to be a little bit bigger, which is not conducive to creating the detail she wanted in the pieces. She had to work with an experienced fabricator in New York to get the consistency just right so it had strength, as well as the ability to achieve the detail she was looking for.

Glynn hand-sculpted the baroque molding on the edges of the chair, as well as redrew all the patterns in pencil, working off of a single archival photo. Some of the details were too small to cut by hand, so they had to be laser cut and then glued onto the model.

The positives were made over a course of three months in Los Angeles, Glynn said, and then molded and cast in New York over a period of about five months.

The pieces of concrete furniture are going to be rearranged differently for the Commonwealth Avenue Mall site than they were for Central Park. They need to be arranged spatially, so Glynn will be coming to Boston to oversee the installation and the opening of the exhibition. She said that as an artist who grew up in the Boston area, she is excited to be part of the rich history of art and culture in Boston.

Now + There will be making sure that there is signage on site so people can learn about the private ballroom the piece is based upon. Gilbert said that they are also doing a lot on social media and their website, where they hope to generate a real conversation about the point of this artwork. The digital component also gives more people access to the artwork, said Gilbert.

There will also be special events, and at least one lecture to tie in the themes of the artwork and get people talking about this issue of access to space.

In a partnership with the Public Art Fund, “We’re excited to bring Open House to Boston as the first work in a series of installations we’re calling Common Home,” Gilbert said. “This work and the other works that we’re presenting all explore memory and power, leisure and consumption, and our collective responsibility to our common public spaces.”

Open House will be on display at the Commonwealth Avenue Mall near Kenmore Square from July 26 to Nov. 4.

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