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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Now you see it, now you don't

Published 10:19 am, Thursday, May 1, 2014

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  • Watch The Glass House, in New Canaan, Conn., "disappear" for a few minutes every hour with the new exhibit "Fujiko Nakaya: Veil," whcih runs from May 1 to Nov. 30, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Watch The Glass House, in New Canaan, Conn., "disappear" for a few minutes every hour with the new exhibit "Fujiko Nakaya: Veil," whcih runs from May 1 to Nov. 30, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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Philip Johnson's Glass House, New Canaan's internationally known piece of modern architecture, is about to disappear. But it will be for just a few times a day.

The building's latest exhibit, "Fujiko Nakaya: Veil," which opened May 1, covers the iconic house with fog for about 10 minutes each hour.

During those minutes, the building appears to vanish and then return as the fog dissipates.

Nakaya is a Japanese artist who has produced fog sculptures and environments around the world.

"Veil" is the first site-specific artist project to engage the Glass House itself.

The exhibit coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Glass House.

The mist is produced by fresh water, pumped at high pressure through nearly 660 nozzles.

The Glass House's curator, Irene Shum Allen, said the exhibit speaks to Johnson's beliefs.

"This `hide and reveal' concept is something Philip Johnson always employed throughout his design," Allen said.

Nakaya said fog reveals and conceals the features of the environment.

She said the fog will bring to light the different wind patterns. What's fascinating for Nakaya is the interplay between what is visible and what is not.

"Veil" will stage a "dialogue" with the Glass House, "producing an opaque atmosphere to meet the building's extreme transparency and temporal effects that complement its timelessness," Christa Carr, Glass House's director of communications, said in a news release.

"Fog is highly interactive with the atmosphere," Allen said. "The fog makes visible the conditions that are actually going on. Once we turn on the fog, it sort of swirls and dances and it changes minute by minute. So there's a performance aspect to it."

She also said "Veil" is "almost like a symphony" that Johnson is conducting.

"It changes all the time. It will never take the same shape," Allen said. "It's very playful and joyful. And it plays upon Philip Johnson's interest in hiding and revealing."

The nozzles used in the exhibit were precisely arranged so that the mist blankets the house. Nakaya said she requested small nozzles, as thin as a needle, so that the mist "breaks into the same size as natural fog."

Nakaya has been partnering with Mee Industries, which produces high-pressure fog applications, since she created the world's first fog sculpture 40 years ago. Nakaya worked with the company's founder, Tom Mee, in 1970, when she wrapped the Pepsi Pavilion in Osaka, Japan, in a vaporous mist.

"No scientists really wanted to develop this fog sculpture for art," Nakaya said. But Mee was "inventive enough" to collaborate with her.

Nakaya has created fog exhibits around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in Spain; the Grand Palais, in Paris; and the Australian National Gallery, in Canberra.

"I can't let it go. It's such a wonderful medium," Nakaya said.

Nakaya met Henry Urbach, director and chief curator of the Glass House, two years ago when she had a fog project at the San Francisco's Exploratorium museum. When Urbach came back, he told Allen about Nakaya's work and they decided to bring her to the Glass House.

When Nakaya first visited the Glass House, she felt the building was "unapproachable."

"It's too beautiful, too perfect," she said.

As soon as they started planning the exhibit, Allen realized covering the Glass House would be a challenge because of the topography of the area. She noted that the location of the structure, which is on a promontory overlooking a valley, is subject to changing wind patterns, temperature and humidity.

"It was a leap of faith for us," she said. "The winds here are very erratic. We didn't know if it would work."

Glass House employees set up a station on the site to monitor the weather. Allen said they recorded humidity, wind speed and direction and sent those records to Nakaya every month. The artist also had the help of a meteorologist adviser so she would know how to best arrange the sprinklers around the building.

While the sprinklers were being tested on April 23, Allen said, a truck driver saw the fog and thought the house was on fire. He called 911.

"The mist is so fine that it looks like smoke," Allen said. "We were testing it, and although we had alerted the department, someone actually called in."

When Nakaya first began creating fog sculpture, she "thought the wind was treacherous." But now she has a better control over it.

"Now I'm a little more courageous. I can negotiate with the wind," she said.

Her father, Ukichiro Nakaya, was a physicist credited with making the first artificial snowflakes.

"That's her background," Allen said. "It's in the household."

The exhibit will run until Nov. 30.

For more information, visit theglasshouse.org or call 203-594-9884.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson