Recycling Our History

Aug 14, 2014

Liz Glynn’s “On the Museum’s Ruin (Morris Hunt–Corbusier–Piano)” is made from recycled debris from the Harvard Art Museums renovation project.

Sculptor and artist Liz Glynn ’03 had half of her undergraduate classes in Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. In 2011, she returned to the Le Corbusier–designed Carpenter Center as the Josep Lluís Sert Practitioner in the Arts, teaching a workshop on basic mold-making and casting technique. While on campus she created full-scale replicas of Le Corbusier’s iconic furniture—using recycled concrete from the Harvard Art Museums renovation project. She spoke to us about these arresting sculptures and about her experience as a visiting artist.

“My mother was an architect, and having the opportunity to work in the only Corbusier building in America was amazing,” Glynn said. “Some people have commented that its cast concrete structure appears cold or brutal, but to me the proportions of that space are very human.”

Glynn’s work uses objects and actions to explore the ambition of empire and the “pleasure of ruin,” often incorporating themes of growth, possibility, and decay.

Glynn was intrigued by the materials that resulted from early demolition work as the Harvard Art Museums renovation project began. To pay tribute to Le Corbusier, she decided to appropriate some of the materials by crafting blocks of concrete into two replicas of chairs designed by the architect. (In fact, throughout the renovation project, 98% of debris was recycled.)

“I had the idea for the chairs early on,” she said. “I was interested in working with students in sculpture, and I wanted to work with them in a hands-on way, to think about the history of the space as well as to incorporate the museums’ renovation into it. I wanted them to see how a physical process like casting concrete could be linked to the history of the site, and I wanted to spark a larger conversation about material and ideology.”

Glynn worked closely with her students, who helped her to construct the square, bulky chairs from rubble and to frame them with chrome bars that mimic Le Corbusier’s leather-covered LC-2 chairs. While his seats were crafted to be small but extremely comfortable, Glynn’s replicas—titled “On the Museum’s Ruin (Morris Hunt–Corbusier–Piano)”—are formidable, weighing more than 400 pounds.

“When the chairs were installed on the first floor of the Carpenter Center, I was thinking about the idea of the chairs consuming the brick and mortar architecture,” Glynn said. “There was something about the concept of renovating the museums, of recycling history and making something new out of it, that appealed to me.”

  • The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, with the new Harvard Art Museums in the background.
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    The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, with the new Harvard Art Museums in the background.