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Philip Johnson the lonely whore

“Johnson often wept for art. Never for himself, that I know of, and rarely for mankind. His services, like those of most architects, and for which he called himself a ‘whore,’ were for the rich, not the poor. It was all ‘Acropolis’ for him, never really ‘the town;’ for whose complex problems his attention span was too short, and his impatience too demanding. ‘Community’ was not for him. He was fundamentally lonely.”

From a Vincent Scully video you’ll love.

Watch Scully speak of the fireplace and chimney cylinder in

Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. It’s on 47+ acres and will open to the public this April.

Scully quotes an article by Johnson in the Architectural Review.

Philip Johnson:
“The cylinder, made of the same brick as the platform from which it springs, forming the main motif of the house, was not dervied from Mies, but rather from a burnt wooden vilage I saw once where nothing was left but foundations and chimneys of brick. Over the chimney I slipped a steel cage with a glass skin. The chimney forms the anchor.”

Vincent Scully:
“And where had Johnson been likely to see a burnt village, if not in Poland, to which he traveled with the German army in 1939, as correspondent for Father Coughlin’s anti-semitic rag, ‘Social Justice.’

If so, what is this thing doing here? Is Johnson exorcising it all through art? Expiating it through art? Or more likely, is it merely the amoral working in him of the artistic process? Ruthlessly making use of whatever is useful to itself? Whatever the case, he seems compelled to refer to it.”


About 57:00 minutes into Scully’s lecture – he’s got a picture of Mies’ Seagram Building up on the left, he’s trying to explain it, and the slide projector on the right goes out. No Powerpoint for Vincent Scully. It’s very funny. Scully gets very impatient.

“That can’t be! … It’s not working! We are over-mechanized. Ruskin in the 19th century used to have fellows come in carrying big pictures! Much simpler! You must do something!…”

He likes things to work. He gets uncomfortable feeling out of control, all of this in front of one photo of Seagram. “Hope for the best, expect the worst, stiff upper lip….”

And then, an image comes on the right… but the slide is in wrong. Yes its Mies’ Seagram Building, but it’s on its side.

An impossible moment for the rather upright Vincent Scully.