Public Art

Windshield evokes Browns’ summer home

July 27, 2011  |  By Deborah Baum |  401-863-2476
Dennis McNulty: Windshield (2011) Credit: Warren Jagger
Windshield (2011), a public sculpture outside the Nightingale-Brown House, calls to mind a 1938 summer home commissioned by John Nicholas Brown on Fishers Island, N.Y.

In the gardens of the Nightingale-Brown House sits the slanted, reflective sculpture Windshield (2011), created by Dennis McNulty. The piece is an evocation of Windshield House, a summer home commissioned by John Nicholas Brown for the Brown family on Fishers Island, N.Y. Designed by the Los Angeles-based seminal modernist architect Richard Neutra from 1936 to 1938, Windshield House was the first house built by the architect on the East Coast of the United States. Twice destroyed — first by the hurricane of 1938 and second by fire — the house exists now only as archive, memory, and an affective absence.

According to curator Ian Alden Russell, a fellow at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, McNulty has inserted an excerpt from the architectural form of Windshield House into the gardens of the Nightingale-Brown House, the Brown’s family home in Providence, R.I. “Almost as if finally landing from the winds of the hurricane of 1938, the work embeds the formal language of Windshield House as an intervention into the atmosphere of historic preservation of the 18th-century house, 19th-century gardens, and 20th-century adaptive reuse that constitute the Nightingale-Brown House."

Windshield House (1938), Fishers Island, N.Y.Designed by Richard NeutraPhotograph: by Harold Haliday Costain, courtesy of the UCLA Library Archives and the Harold Haliday Costain Estate.Windshield House (1938), Fishers Island, N.Y.
Designed by Richard Neutra
Photograph: by Harold Haliday Costain, courtesy of the UCLA Library Archives and the Harold Haliday Costain Estate.
The “mise-en-scène” of Windshield (2011) is that of a film set, says Russell, with its method of construction and support clearly visible from behind. The form is based on a fragment of the iconic ribbon windows from which Windshield House takes its name. In McNulty’s version, the glass has been replaced by mirrored surfaces. “A surreal intervention into the gardens of the Nightingale-Brown house, its presence shifts the atmosphere of the historically preserved space into the register of the cinematic. As the viewer moves through the garden, passing between the two architectural façades, the reflection of the Nightingale-Brown House in Windshield (2011) shifts and distorts. The viewer is temporarily invited to take on the role of a cinematic actor implicated not only in the constitution of the artwork but also in the discourses and tensions within aesthetics of modernism, historic preservation and the landscaped environment,” Russell said.

Windshield (2011) was completed in parallel with Space replaced by volume, an exhibition of new works by McNulty responding to the modernist architectural heritage of Brown University at the Granoff Center for Creative Arts and the Sciences Library at Brown University. This project is part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland’s Year of Irish Arts in America 2011, and is made possible through funding from Brown University’s Creative Arts Council and John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities.

The sculpture will be on view throughout the 2011-2012 academic year. The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage is at 357 Benefit St.