Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Philip Johnson is Dead

Well, here goes. No illustrations yet but give me a break, its my first post.

I've been meaning to launch this blog for a while now. After being inspired by my Big Sis, and further inspired by other bloggers I started finding out there, I knew it was only a matter of time. Then, as sometimes happens in life, events transpired over the course of the day today that brought me to the conclusion that it was time.

Philip Johnson died last night.

I got the call at work around 2:00 this afternoon. It was Dino, calling to tell me that Philip Johnson had died. Not exactly shocking news, given Mr. Johnson's age, but not something that I was expecting, either. I told my co-workers and alerted the Front Office. It brought a bit of a pause to the office, [just for a minute] as happens when you encounter that 'end of an era' moment that comes around once in a while, in life. [You could say that era still lives on in the great Julius Schulman. But Schulman is so West Coast, and Johnson so East Coast, that although they coincide chronologically, they really embody distinct arenas within 20th Century Architecture.]

Fernando called a couple hours later with the same news. I usually think I'm the last one to find out stuff like this. If I got 2 calls within one afternoon for the death of PJ, then the switchboards must really have really been lighting up.

Philip Johnson was the most effective advocate of bad ideas in the field of Architecture, perhaps ever.

Although he consistently advocated bad ideas throughout his entire life, there were two particular moments that stand out. In the early 1930's, he curated the Modern Architecture show at MOMA in New York. Basically, he took the work of a bunch of highly individualistic, mainly European architects, lumped it all together, labeled it 'International Style,' and sold it to the public.

Misleadingly, Mr. Johnson used black and white photography exclusively to portray the buildings, and only used views that supported his invented criteria for what constituted this new style. In reality, many of the architects used quite a bit of color, and their designs were highly individualistic. If anything, they shared little more than a throwing-off of the classicist/revivalist-inspired design mode that had dominated the field up to that time. The true meaning of the new design trend was that of individualism, of the designer cutting himself free and developing his own idiom, his own unique style. Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all International Style fraud was eagerly gobbled up by the press and the public, and it stuck.

Following the fabulous success of this exhibition, he flirted with, among other things, Fascism; plaigarized other architects and got away with it; promoted Postmodernism; and then in the 80's, he repeated the MOMA stunt with a major architectural exhibition on Deconstructivism. This second time around, he collected a group of architects, few of whom had any actual interest in the philosophy of the late Jacques Derrida [the originator of the philosophical movement called Deconstruction,] and lumped their work together under the heading of 'Deconstructivsm.' The main tenet of this so-called style seems to be 'the uglier you can get away with, the better.' And now ugliness has a name and a formal movement, and Mr. Johnson's legacy lives on.

I'd say its time for some fresh ideas. The end of an era happily means the beginning of a new one. Its time to take back Architecture. Stay tuned for further developments.


Blogger Phideaux said...

Sounds a bit like the tower of Babel comin' down. i "love" the idea that someone can curate the works of an artist, totally misrepresenting them with careful deception and trick photography, and then start a movement for their own purposes... A form of fascism, no doubt.

According to the Mayan calendar (which ends in 2012) big changes will be afoot upon all the continents in the next seven years (tsunamis, quakes, world paradigm shifts). Could this death be related???

9:32 AM  

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