Magazine article Artforum International

Mies in America

Magazine article Artforum International

Mies in America

Article excerpt

WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK

In appraising its acknowledged masters, architectural history is usually content with a single version: Wright the troubled genius, Le Corbusier the painter in planner's clothing, Gropius the ideologue who lacked an artist's chops. Among the twentieth century's Big Four, only Ludwig Mies van der Rohe persists in multiple. As the architectural historian Joan Ockman observes, "We have proliferated a dizzying array of Mieses--a European Mies, an American Mies; a classicizing Mies, an expressionist Mies; an Adorno-critical Mies, a pragmatic-lyrical Mies-but it often seems that our quarry only becomes increasingly elusive or opaque." It is fitting, then, that the architect will be celebrated this summer in dueling New York blockbusters, the museological equivalent of a home-and-away doubleheader. The curators at MOMA and the Whitney have broken Mies's career at a natural point-his arrival here from Germany in 1938--but this ghettoization-by-period promises only to add to the surplus of Mieses.

Historians never discuss Mies; they wield him. This grand tradition began, as so many did, with Philip Johnson's 1932 "Modern Architecture" exhibition at MOMA and the publication the same year of his book The International Style. To further his vision of an architecture that would transcend people, place, and politics, Johnson stripped Mies of the expressionist and even romantic tendencies that were his birthright. Columbia University architectural historian Barry Bergdoll, who organized "Mies in Berlin" with MOMA curator Terence Riley, points out in his catalogue essay that while preparing the drawings for the 1932 show Johnson had all traces of the plantings, garden paths, and trellises erased from Mies's plans, forever displacing the Idiosyncratic-Romantic Mies in favor of the Irreducible-Rationalist Mies he craved. …

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