Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two in the Glass House

A play called "The Glass House," now playing on Theatre Row, is really about 2 glass houses and the 2 architects who made them. The 2 architects - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson - were fierce competitors and utterly different personalities. Johnson was young, brash, and inexperienced. Mies was aging, self-assured, and a complete master of the architectural arts. Mies had the idea for a glass house first in about 1945. Philip Johnson, who saw a small model of what Mies had designed, became completely enamored with the idea of a glass house while he was still the architectural curator at MoMA, and brought his own glass house to fruition long before Mies. Mies, in far less of a hurry for recognition and fame than Johnson, though he had already acquired them as a result of a long line of highly distinguished work, finished his glass house for Mrs. Farnsworth in 1949. He labored on it deliberately and carefully until the result was exactly what he wanted. In the end, because of personal differences between Mies and Mrs. Farnsworth, the original vision for the glass house was not fully realized until much later.

The play suggests, however, that the contrast between the two houses shows the difference between true artistic vision and the work of a charlatan who is only out to achieve his selfish ambitions for money and power. Mies is, of course, the true artist in this narrative. Johnson is the Philistine with only half-baked ideas about
good design. How true this contrast is I cannot say, but the story of art for art's sake pitted against art for the artist's sake is always worth telling and is a reminder of the impressive power of an authentic artistic vision.

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