Philip Johnson was one of the most influential architects of the last century, a chameleon in each of his roles as New York energy broker, art collector and creator of his “Glass House“, a famous landmark of Modernist design. in Connecticut.
He also championed racist and white supremacist views in his youth. Johnson’s Nazi sympathies, for example, have been well documented and he spent the years after World War II trying to distance himself from them.
Today, a group of more than 30 prominent artists, architects and academics shed light on the most distasteful part of Johnson’s legacy, demanding in a letter posted online Nov. 27 that institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Harvard Graduate School of Design are removing the name of the architect, who died in 2005, from their spaces.
“Johnson’s architectural work has a role to play in archives and historical preservation,” wrote the Johnson Study Group, a largely anonymous group of designers and architects, in the letter. “However, the naming of titles and spaces inevitably suggests that the winner is a role model for curators, administrators, students and others who participate in these institutions.
The letter was signed by contemporary artist Xaviera Simmons; Kate Orff, landscape architect and member of MacArthur; and V. Mitch McEwen, Assistant Professor of Architecture at Princeton University, one of eight of 10 architects for an upcoming MoMA exhibit – “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America” – slated to open on February 20 .
He cites Johnson’s “widely documented” plea for white supremacist views, his attempt to found a fascist party in Louisiana, and his failure to include the work of a single black artist or designer in the MoMA collection during his tenure there. -low. (He served in various roles for six decades.) The letter urged all institutions using his name to remove it.
“He not only nodded but added to the persistent practice of racism in the field of architecture,” the letter said, “a legacy that continues to hurt today.”
Johnson’s name appears in one of the exhibition galleries at the Museum of Modern Art, where he was the first responsible for architecture and design since 1984. His name is also included in the title of chief curator of the architecture and design of the museum.
Johnson created buildings that are widely regarded as architectural masterpieces of the 20th century, including the MoMA Sculpture Garden and the Pavilion that houses pre-Columbian art from the Dumbarton Oaks Estate in Washington. In his obituary, New York Times critic Paul Goldberger hailed him as the “godfather, fly, scholar, patron, critic, curator and cheerleader” of American architecture.
But as a youth, he openly admired Hitler’s manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” attended Nazi rallies in Germany and was investigated by the FBI for his ties to the Nazi Party. He rejected Nazism after the end of World War II.
Representatives from MoMA and Harvard did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Ms Orff, a landscape architect and MacArthur scholar, said in an email Thursday that removing Johnson’s name from the gallery and from the post of curator would represent an important step in dismantling racism in design culture.
“Landscape architecture is catching up in its assessment of its own heritage,” Ms. Orff said. “To move forward with a more imaginative, fair and equitable culture in the fields of design, we have to take into account the numbers of the past that set the ground rules.”