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New York State Theater No. 14 - Curtains & Railings

The Beaded Curtains

"From the entire height of the roof, a deep curtain of brass bead drops, shimmering constantly in the slight breath of the room's draught." [1]

"The beaded curtain that covers the glass windows at the front of the theater consists of 8,000,000 gold colored metal balls — one for every citizen of New York City in 1964 when the Theater opened to the public. Over time, the effect of the sun has turned the balls to a silver color." [2]

Hilary Lewis: “The lobby is really the "see and be seen" portion of the theater. Can you tell us about the curtains? We were fascinated by the beaded metal you chose."

Philip Johnson: "Well. it came from the curtains at the Seagram Building, the Four Seasons, of course. They worked so well there that I couldn't do louvered ones. People like to touch them. If they tear off, you put another one up. You see, being round, the little balls catch the light, so they are always lighted. You can push them apart to walk through them.” [3]

Johnson would be happy to know that his beaded curtains are still enticing patrons to run their fingers through them. Unfortunately, that is strictly forbidden now that the beads have become fragile and there are far fewer than the original eight million beads left. You don't have to look too closely to see broken strands.


Photo by Lauryn Johnson. Art installation by Eva Lewitt.

Bronze Promenade Railings

Hilary Lewis: “Tell us about the bronze panels in the grand promenade. How were those designed? "

Philip Johnson: "They were very hard to do. I found a little shop down in Greenwich Village, and they were made right there. The people there didn't really know what they were doing. They just laid these things down and welded the bronze. We got the individuality of the panels with no high technology. In the great old days, you had somebody who knew how to do that, but not today. So I said, 'Let's do what we can.' The texture was what we got, semi-accidental blobs of brass stuck to the woven wires.

Hilary Lewis: It looks almost like a Jackson Pollock. 

Philip Johnson: "Pure accident.” [3]


"The panels are made in bronze and are surprisingly painterly, with delicate tendrils and splotches of bronze layered in a crisscrossing pattern. For this effect, Edward Meshekoff and his studio assistants poured hot liquid bronze over rods attached to steel frames. All of the work was done in Meshekoff’s studio in New York, a former trolley car garage on East 10th Street. Meshekoff's design adorns the balconies with 500 bronze screens to surround the cavernous lobby." [4]

David Yurman assisted artist Edward Meshekoff in welding decorative railings on the promenade of New York’s Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center. Yurman said, "Making direct-welded sculptures was like dreaming with my hands." Meshekoff used Yurman’s welding skills to execute his vision for the organic, tactile balustrades. Yurman incorporated some of his personal style in the work, with whimsical forms subtly wrought into the metal—little hidden Rorschach-like secrets to delight a very observant theatergoer. [5]

[1] Lincoln Kirstein in a Souvenir Program 1964-65

[3] Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words by Hilary Lewis and Philip Johnson

[4] The Kreeger Museum, Washington D.C.

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