How Olympia Scarry employed reincarnation for her latest installation

Stacked above the entrance of Eleven Madison Park, the renowned and newly renovated midtown restaurant, are eleven vertical rectangular stained glass windows, each one a peachy, rosy hue. The panels constitute Olympia Scarry’s latest installation, 11×11, and were fused and kilned in Zürich by the Swiss artist, who also co-founded and curates Elevation 1049, a series of site-specific exhibitions in Gstaad. 11×11 is one of the artworks created in response to the new space and vision of the restaurant’s chef and co-founder Daniel Humm: Each signified an evolution that does not eclipse the past, instead commemorating Eleven Madison Park’s history and architecture.

Take Daniel Turner’s sculpture, for instance, which involved melting equipment such as knives, forks, and stoves from the original kitchen and recasting them into a step—literally preserving the past in the present with a threshold made of steel. Or the Sol LeWitt wall drawing, which pays homage to the late artist and faces the lawn in Madison Square Park, where LeWitt created the park’s earliest public artworks.

For Scarry, the idea crystallized from glass panels. “The first time I went to Eleven Madison, I was struck by this art deco glass paneling—and even more so when Daniel [Humm] told me it was going to get destroyed,” she says over the phone. “So I’m looking at the building and there’s opportunity above the entrance with the existing transparent glass panels. The starting point was to shift the orientation of these glass panels from east-to-west facing to south-to-north facing,” she says. “I wanted to create a vision of reincarnation through material.”

Orientation, Scarry explains, was integral to the piece. She says, “I wanted to make a gesture about how [orientation] is important in architecture, in placement—and also in religion.” With the spiritual inflection of reincarnation and the celestial quality of stained glass, it’s unsurprising that Scarry was influenced by iconic German artist Sigmar Polke, who in 2009 created twelve abstract stained glass pieces for Zürich’s landmark dual-towered church, the Grossmünster.

Scarry’s process was itself a reincarnation of sorts: She had approached the same glassmaker with whom Polke worked and the two developed 60 distinct techniques to create the 22 panels. “There was a whole formula. We used a clear sheet and different broken pieces of glass, applying it in six different layers—different sizes, different sharpness—and in between [applied] a colored glass powder so each one is unique,” explains Scarry. The whole process, in a way, came full circle. Scarry says, laughing, “It was almost like creating a recipe.”