Le stupide et le bel camaraderie sont également fermés à la verité; il y a toutefois cette différence que le stupide camaraderie la respecte, tandis que le bel camaraderie la méprise.
The brainless actuality and the wit are appropriately dark to truth; there is, however, this difference, that the brainless actuality respects accuracy while the wit despises it.—Nicolas Malebranche
Effect afore everything.—Philip Johnson
It is a acceptability that has evolved—some ability say mutated—greatly. In 1949, anon afterwards he began practicing architecture, Johnson took the architectural apple by storm with the arguable Bottle Abode he congenital on his acreage in New Canaan, Connecticut. Inspired by a then-unbuilt architectonics by Mies van der Rohe, the alluringly sited abode consists of a floor, a collapsed roof, and four walls of floor-to-ceiling glass. Inside, a brick butt contains a bath and fireplace. There is one free-standing cabinet, one counter, and a few pieces of appliance by Mies. Aback he came to see it, Frank Lloyd Wright clumsily asked “Is it Philip? … And is it architecture?” Maybe not. But the Bottle Abode is, as Franz Schulze addendum in his new adventures of the architect, “one of the best acclaimed residences of the twentieth century, a assignment of architectonics that at aboriginal glance is not alone artlessness itself but to some eyes arrant simplicity.” In the 1970s and 1980s, aback postmodernism swept the country, Johnson was apparently the busiest “upscale” artisan in the United States. His barrio from that aeon dot cityscapes from Boston, New York, and Atlanta to Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. He has been the almsman of every above accolade that his profession confers. But his celebrity goes far above the borders of the architectural profession. In 1979, for example, anon afterwards his abominable “Chippendale” architectonics for the AT&T architectonics was unveiled, he was pictured on the awning of Time magazine, a badge of celebrity that few architects can match.
At the aforementioned time, it charge be said that for abounding years now Johnson’s acclaim has absolutely been a breed of assiduously able notoriety. The credible absorption that characterized his aboriginal activities as a adherent of Mies and as founding administrator of MOMA’s administration of architectonics is a abroad memory. The “new” Philip Johnson, who began arising in the 1960s, is the man who in 1982 responded to criticism of one of his projects by declaring “I do not accept in principles. … I am a whore and am paid actual able-bodied for architectonics high-rise buildings.” For abounding observers, the acrimony of this anniversary finds a allusive not alone in Johnson’s barrio but additionally in his casual if clear advancement of every new architectural trend, no bulk how meretricious. Johnson’s appetite for publicity has assured that the accepted outlines of his action are able-bodied known. But Mr. Schulze’s new adventures allows us to footfall aback and booty the admeasurement of Philip Johnson’s career—a career that, for bigger or worse, is in abounding agency emblematic not alone of the plight of abreast architectonics but additionally of our “postmodern” cultural situation.
Mr. Schulze has brought the aforementioned affectionate of bookish composure to Philip Johnson: Action and Work. But the consistent picture, while absolutely vivid, is in the end not as anecdotic or accurate as it was with Mies. This is partly because Philip Johnson presents a abundant added bleared accountable than Mies: one would be adamantine apprenticed to ascertain his axiological artful anniversary because they are consistently in flux. (It is not hasty that Heraclitus is one of his admired philosophers.) Mr. Schulze is actual aback he notes, in his preface, that Johnson’s “genius was that of a abnormally able antic who consistently afflicted the masks of actualization on his own assignment and conducted his claimed relationships with commensurable whimsicality.” How it can additionally be said that “steadfast commitments and loyalties” and a “studied worldview” accept activated all his activities is conceivably below obvious.
If Johnson’s active attributes is one botheration that Mr. Schulze faced in autograph this biography, addition is the simple actuality that he was autograph about a active person—an about dogged obstacle to acquisitive the accomplished truth. In his preface, Mr. Schulze tells us that Johnson did not see any of the adventures afore it was appear and that his book is accordingly “an complete and crooked work.” Conceivably so. But while the anniversary of Philip Johnson that emerges in this book is about the adverse of flattering, one sometimes gets the afflictive faculty that Mr. Schulze was attractive over his accept as he was writing. Commodity of this array is axiomatic not alone in the excuses that are fabricated for Johnson’s aberrant claimed behavior but additionally in some of the judgments of his assignment and importance.
Still, this is an important biography, acute and annoying by turns. Mr. Schulze accretion chronologically, demography us from Johnson’s adolescence in and about Cleveland, Ohio, through his years at the Architectonics of Avant-garde Art, his amazingly advantageous affiliation with John Burgee from the afterwards 1960s through the 1980s, adapted up to his accepted assignment designing a accommodation of barrio for the developer Donald Trump.
Born in July 1906, Philip Johnson was the third adolescent and additional son of a prosperous, Harvard-educated advocate and his patrician, Wellesley-educated wife. By the standards of the day, it was a backward marriage: Homer Johnson’s aboriginal two wives had died of tuberculosis and Louise Pope was thirty-two aback they married. Their four accouchement were produced in quick succession. The Johnsons’ earlier son, Alfred, succumbed to mastoiditis aback he was bristles years old—a fate that, Mr. Schulze speculates, was conceivably precipitated by his parents’ acclimatized acceptance that “fresh air,” no bulk how cold, was the key to acceptable health. This fabricated adolescent Philip, the “irreplaceable heir,” an alike added adored asset. Nevertheless, his upbringing, although “uncommonly protected,” was not, it seems, decidedly affectionate. Philip and his adolescent sister, Theodate, were and remained actual close; but their ancestor was a bluff, somewhat abroad character, best at home at his club or on the links. Louise sedulously directed the children’s aboriginal education. It was she, Mr. Schulze writes, who instructed them “in the acceptable amenities and aerial anniversary adapted to her abstraction of their base and mission in life.” Nevertheless, Louise was “a mother of majesty rather than intimacy,” who “locomoted with certain deliberateness, like an ocean liner.” She was, Philip afterwards recalled, added “schoolmistress than mother.”
Philip was not the aboriginal artisan in the family. His mother’s aboriginal cousin, Theodate Pope Riddle, had additionally been an artisan of some repute. Among her works was Avon Old Farms, a boys’ academy in Farmington, Connecticut, which Mr. Schulze describes as “a absurd sandstone accumulation of classical Greek and medieval English components.” Given his afterwards embrace of a alone historicism, it is anniversary acquainted that Philip’s acknowledgment on aboriginal seeing it was revulsion. It is “the purest blend you anytime saw,” he wrote home, “in no accurate architectonics that I could discover.” Among her added accomplishments, incidentally, Theodate Pope Riddle was an agog spiritualist. She already gave Henry James a certificate purporting to anniversary for an actualization of his asleep brother William at a séance. James responded:
Mr. Schulze does not say whether there was any added advice amid Riddle and James. One somehow suspects not.
Things began attractive up aback Philip went abroad to the Hackley Academy in Tarrytown, New York. He spent three years there, belief languages, literature, and piano. The shy adolescent became arrogant and self-assured, an important ability for the debating team, affected productions, and academy publications. Aloft graduating, in 1923, he was voted “most acceptable to succeed.” At the aforementioned time, Mr. Schulze informs us, he was actual alone and did not accomplish accompany easily. It was about this time, it seems, that Philip became acquainted of his homosexuality, admitting he did not yet commence on the frenetically alone action that he afterwards advantaged in.
Like his father, Philip went to Harvard. His aboriginal year, boilerplate scholastically, was apparent by his father’s accommodation to administer some of his ample assets to his heirs. Philip’s sisters accustomed a acceptable accord of complete estate. Philip got shares in the Aluminum Company of America. Overnight, he became a man of complete means. In the 1920s, aback banal in ALCOA soared, he became wealthier than his father, a “millionaire, at a time aback the chat meant rich, not aloof comfortable.” Philip’s new-found abundance was a bifold blessing: it underwrote his accepted banking generosity to friends, and it placed him in the enviable position of actuality able to assignment afterwards a bacon at the Architectonics of Avant-garde Art (and pay his secretary out of his own pocket) and, later, to aces and accept his architectural commissions afterwards absorption to fees.
Johnson’s years at Harvard were agitated and protracted. He alert took leaves because of what amounted to afraid breakdowns. (Mr. Schulze refers several times to Johnson’s “manic-depressive” states of mind.) Yet it was absolutely at Harvard that his administration in action crystallized. It was not a quick or accessible process. He advised Greek and Latin, and persisted with the piano to the point area he advised a career as a pianist. His primary subject, however, was philosophy. In those years, the acclaimed philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was ensconced at Harvard, and Johnson anon became a “fixture” in his classes and at his house. It is in some agency surprising, in ablaze of his afterwards aestheticism, that Johnson at aboriginal begin himself fatigued to Plato, whose “masterful advancement of the complete attributes of adapted and amiss as able-bodied as his identification of advantage and ability agitated a appropriate appeal.”
The address did not last. During the advance of 1928, Johnson alone Plato for the relativism of the sophists and, especially, Friedrich Nietzsche’s aesthetics of art and the will to power. Like some abreast philosophers—one thinks in accurate of Richard Rorty—Johnson now declared Plato’s admirable moral eyes to be “evil.” And as with abounding abreast philosophers—Rorty afresh comes to mind—Johnson’s abandonment of Plato was absolutely alike to an abandonment of aesthetics acclaim court. In the end, Mr. Schulze observes, Johnson was “too impatient, mercurial, and alike apparent in his anticipation processes for Whitehead.” Johnson himself acclaimed that Whitehead never flunked his acceptance “but if he gave you a B, it meant the aforementioned thing—that you didn’t accept what it takes. In 1927, he gave me a B.”
It was about this time that Johnson’s absorption began to about-face definitively against the beheld arts. (At Harvard, a anew formed Society for Abreast Art had Edward M. M. Warburg, John Walker, and Lincoln Kirstein as allegorical spirits, but they were all adolescent than Johnson and he remained amateur with them until later.) A appointment to the Parthenon in 1928 was an important inspiration, as was his analysis the aforementioned year of an commodity by his earlier Harvard aide Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Jr., on the Dutch artisan Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud. But according to Mr. Schulze, the distinct day that “more than any added angry his action around” came in 1929 aback Johnson went to Wellesley for Theodate’s admission and met Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the artisan of the Architectonics of Avant-garde Art, which opened the afterward autumn.
At twenty-seven, Barr was alone a few years earlier than Johnson, but his affection for avant-garde art was as absolute as it was contagious. Although Johnson was in abounding agency out of his depth—of the three classes on the accomplished arts that he taken at Harvard, he had alone two—he fell into activated altercation about art with Barr. “More than any added accident in his claimed history,” Mr. Schulze writes, this adventitious affair with Alfred Barr “persuaded him that the coil of his apperception had a center.” Johnson had advised afterward his ancestor into the law; he advised demography up an action to advise abstract at Oberlin. Affair Alfred Barr afflicted all that for good.
The aboriginal bake-apple of Johnson’s appointment with Barr was to admit a appropriate faculty of purpose and administration to the European cruise (one of many, abounding trips) that Johnson planned to booty that summer. Barr gave him abundant instructions about what he should see, laying accurate accent aloft those places area the aboriginal monuments of modernist architectonics were to be found, conspicuously the Bauhaus in Dessau and the Weissenhofsiedlung accommodation antecedents in Stuttgart (though he absent an befalling to see Mies van der Rohe’s acclaimed German Pavilion at the International Exposition in Barcelona).
The abutting brace of years were spent in a flurry of advantageous activity. Johnson alternate to the United States, completed assignment at Harvard for his degree, catholic consistently to New York for discussions with Alfred Barr, and—through Barr’s fiancée, Margaret Scolari-Fitzmaurice—met and began alive with Henry-Russell Hitchcock on what would about-face out to be their exhibition and book on International Actualization architecture. In April 1930, he was appointed to the advising board of MOMA. In 1931, aback the Architectural League of New York captivated their anniversary exhibition and larboard out all the able adolescent architects, Johnson and Barr busy amplitude in a Sixth Avenue storefront and army an exhibition of “Rejected Architects” on the arrangement of the acclaimed Salon des Refusés of 1863. Autograph about the columnist acknowledgment to their exhibition (“mixed but lively”), Johnson wrote that “it remained for the Rejected Architects to accord the International Actualization what ability be alleged its aboriginal academic addition to this country.”
Then as later, Johnson was active and able as an architectural impresario. He catholic constantly, commissioned Mies to architectonics an accommodation in New York, and organized several important exhibitions at MOMA, including, in 1934, “Machine Art,” a accumulating of bogus altar that were meant, as Mr. Schulze observes, “to authenticate how that bearding … force of avant-garde times, the machine, could be fabricated to aftermath [objects] … that were at already anatomic and beautiful. There had never been a appearance like it in any American accomplished arts museum.” Johnson’s enthusiasms were abrupt and overpowering. “Hyperbole was catnip to Philip.” Oud was “the world’s greatest architect,” Klee was “the greatest man” at the Bauhuas, Mies was “the greatest man I or we accept met” and his Tugendhat Abode was “like the Parthenon,” “without catechism the best-looking abode in the world.” Predictably, Johnson’s disillusionments were appropriately sudden. One day Gropius “may be the greatest of them all,” anon thereafter he would become “the Warren G. Harding of architecture.”
Mr. Schulze suggests that Johnson’s political activities were sparked partly by a “recurrence of some anatomy of manic-depressive crisis.” Perhaps. In any event, aghast with their abridgement of success in starting a new political party, Johnson and Blackburn collection to Louisiana to action their casework to Huey Long. (Johnson said he was on his way to Louisiana to be Long’s “Minister of Accomplished Arts.”) Continued evidently banned to see them, but eventually a abettor told the assiduous brace that they should go to Ohio and “organize it.” Which is what they did, or attempted to do.
Soon thereafter, Continued was assassinated, so Johnson was afterwards a leader. The awfully anti-Semitic Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, the “most amazing civic radio personality of his day,” anon stepped in to booty Long’s place. Johnson formed in several capacities for Coughlin, writing, designing a belvedere for a assemblage in Chicago, allowance to adapt supporters. Aback Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Johnson was in Europe and was arrive by the German advertising admiral to accompany the Wehrmacht to the front. He beatific aback several dispatches for Coughlin’s anniversary Social Justice. In one dispatch, he complained that Britain and “aliens” were axis France into an English colony: “Lack of administration and administration in the [French] accompaniment has let the one accumulation get ascendancy who consistently accretion ability in a nation’s time of weakness—the Jews.” In added dispatches, he assured American readers that accessible acumen of the Germans was all wrong: they absolutely weren’t the marauders bodies fabricated them out to be. At the aforementioned time, he wrote agilely in a letter that “we saw Warsaw bake and Modlin actuality bombed. It was a active spectacle.” The emperor Nero could accept hardly put it added bluntly. In an commodity alleged “Mein Kampf and the Business Man,” which was appear in the September 1939 affair of The Examiner, Johnson attacked “the liberals” and offered this acknowledgment for Hitler’s ancestral ideas: “Hitler’s ‘racism’ is a altogether simple admitting all-encompassing idea. It is the allegory of ‘we, the best,’ which we find, added or below absolutely developed, in all active cultures.”
For his part, Mr. Schulze engages in a fair bulk of handwringing. He presents the facts, but again engages in a apathetic attack to rationalize them away. Johnson was swept abroad at the Potsdam rally, but, afterwards all, his American citizenship and abundance accustomed him to adore “the affluence of an interpretation,” whatever that means. Indeed, Mr. Schulze is by affection an admirably apprehensible writer, and whenever his book grows muddy, one suspects it is because he is ashamed about something. Attempting to explain Johnson’s admiration with Civic Socialism, he tells us that “whatever the irreducible amount of Philip’s personality, it lay below assorted layers of motivations apparent in an about aberrant ability at the intermingling of activities and interests, not all of them acutely accordant with one another.” I am not abiding what this agency in English. In the end, Mr. Schulze comes abutting to accomplishing an Abby Rockefeller: he does not absolutely alibi Johnson, but he concludes (with beauteous understatement) that his actions, admitting “decidedly unheroic,” becoming “little added abundant absorption than they accept gained.” Not anybody had been so forgiving. Naval intelligence and the FBI, for example, put calm all-encompassing dossiers on Johnson’s activities, which, aback he was drafted afterwards in the war, prevented him from accepting a cardinal of adopted jobs. Still, all things considered, it is amazing how little Johnson’s political activities hindered his career.
Mr. Schulze is about below anxious in ambidextrous with Johnson’s assignment as an artisan and public-relations man for architecture. He gives him due acclaim for his role in acceptable Mies the agency for the Seagram Architectonics in the mid-1950s, and he is appropriately astringent about Johnson’s postmodernist edifices of the 1980s, acquainted that abounding of them “reveal a coast to the akin of kitsch that appears below affected in its action than artlessly and absolutely bargain in its effect.” It is difficult to disagree. Harder to accept are some of Mr. Schulze’s declared enthusiasms: for example, his affirmation that there is “something rather refreshing” about the alleged Lipstick Architectonics in New York—a architectonics that, whatever abroad can be said about it, absolutely impresses best admirers as “cheap.”
In the end, it charge be said that Mr. Schulze gets the capacity about Philip Johnson adapted but that he misconstrues the anniversary he has assembled. Mr. Schulze several times alludes to Johnson’s “classicist disposition,” but his absolute book is a casebook assuming that Johnson’s disposition is absolutely the opposite. He is actual that Johnson came to amusement “the history of architectonics as one immense antecedent book” for his anytime added absurd architectural fantasies, but he skirts the actuality that such a bloodthirsty attitude against history is acutely at allowance with the acclimatized confidence that marks the classical temper. Mies already abundantly said that “we don’t ad-lib a new architectonics every Monday morning.” In his post-Miesian phase, as Mr. Schulze credibility out, Johnson is a French archaeologian one moment, “then, afterwards absence a beat, a medieval castellator, and—next Monday morning, so to speak—a borrower from the Northern Renaissance.” It may be the case that every additional or third Monday Johnson wants a classical “look”; but such appetite for aftereffect is absolutely the adverse of any austere classicism, whether accomplished by Palladio or, indeed, by Mies van der Rohe. As Johnson’s admired Nietzsche empiric in his criticism of addition artisan absorbed to effects, what is meant to accept the aftereffect of accuracy cannot itself be true.
Mr. Schulze speaks of Johnson’s “love of beauty,” claiming that it has consistently been a “unifying force” in his personality “provided it was chargeless of bulletin and he of the obligation to reflect on the message.” But in actuality the affirmation on such “freedom” agency that Johnson’s affiliation to beauty, like his affiliation to truth, is fundamentally that of a parodist. His adulation of adorableness is the arctic airs of the accepted aesthete. His bulletin is that adorableness is accomplished so continued as it can be fabricated absorbing abundant to be piquant; otherwise, anamorphosis has its attractions, too. A few years ago, Philip Johnson empiric that postmodernism installed the cackle into architecture. He hasn’t chock-full laughing, but abominably the antic is on us.
NotesGo to the top of the document.
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Appointment Books. His latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press).
This commodity originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 Cardinal 3, on folio 9Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com https://newcriterion.com/issues/1994/11/philip-johnson-the-architect-as-aesthete
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