Yale and the Museum of Modern Art Team Up to Honor the Late Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson three-day symposium

An American cultural icon and one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated architects, Philip Johnson (1906–2005), will be honored in a three-day symposium, February 16–18, hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Yale School of Architecture, two institutions with which Johnson was closely associated.

A legendary public figure, Johnson derived his reputation as much from the ideas he expressed through his writing and teaching and the exhibitions that he mounted as from the buildings he designed. Of the latter, the one with which he is most generally identified, The Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, was his primary residence from the time of its construction in 1949 to his death in January of this year.

Johnson first came to public attention in 1932 as the curator of a landmark exhibition at the newly established Museum of Modern Art, which is credited with introducing Americans to modern European architecture. Together with the book, “The International Style: Architecture since 1922” (co-authored by Henry-Russell Hitchcock), Johnson’s efforts heavily influenced American design for more than a half-century.

Long a champion of the work of the German modernist Mies van der Rohe, Johnson collaborated with him on the landmark Seagram Building in Manhattan. Among other well-known and influential projects that bear Johnson’s stamp are the celebrated Four Seasons restaurant within the Seagram Building, the Museum for Pre-Columbian Art, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.; Pennzoil Place, Houston; Garden Grove Church, Los Angeles; and the AT&T Building in New York.

In 1979, Johnson became the first winner of the Pritzker Prize, the highest award for architecture. From 1950 on, Johnson was closely associated with Yale as architect of important buildings on the campus and as a teacher in the School of Architecture, most recently as the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor in the spring of 1999.

The first event of the symposium will take place at MoMA, where Johnson served as the curator of architecture from 1932, two years after he graduated from Harvard, until 1934; and from 1946, after having returned to Harvard to pursue an architecture degree, until 1955. He then remained at the Museum as a trustee for the rest of his life. Johnson established his own architectural design firm in 1953. Remaining in practice well into his 90s, his longstanding interest in Mies was subsequently eclipsed by a restless and curious mind that embraced a succession of architectural influences.

“Philip Johnson: Portraits,” held on Thursday, February 16, 6 p.m., includes two lectures, “Portrait of the Curator as a Young Man,” by Terence Riley, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, and “The Very Picture of Architecture,” by Jeffrey Kipnis, professor of architecture, Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University, and Johnson biographer. There will also be a screening of the 1965 film “This is Philip Johnson,” directed by Merrill Brockway, which will be introduced by Peter Reed, senior deputy director for Curatorial Affairs at MoMA. Screening and talks will take place at MoMA’s Titus Theater 1, 11 West 53rd Street, New York. Tickets can be purchased at the main lobby of the Museum or online at www.moma.org/thinkmodern.

The symposium continues on Friday afternoon at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven. After introductory remarks by Yale professor Emmanuel Petit, an organizer of the symposium with Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the School of Architecture, there will be a panel discussion titled “Roaming through History.” Speakers include Kurt W. Forster, architectural historian, teacher, author and currently the Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History; Charles Jencks, author most notably of “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture”; and Mark Jarzombek, professor of architectural history at MIT. Alan Plattus of the Yale School of Architecture will give the response.

Vincent Scully, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of Art History at Yale, will deliver the keynote address at the evening session on Friday, which will be followed by a reception.

The program on February 18 consists of three panels, titled, in the order in which they will take place, “Reckoning with Modernism,” “Rhetoric and Media” and “Politics of Patronage.” Participants in the first panel, which will explore Johnson’s transitions through various forms of modernism, include Phyllis Lambert, Canadian Centre for Architecture; Stanislaus von Moos, University of Zurich and Mark Wigley, Columbia University. Sandy Isenstadt, who teaches in the Yale School of Architecture, will provide the response for “Reckoning with Modernism.”

In “Rhetoric and Media,” academicians Ujjval Vyas, Beatriz Colomina and Detlef Mertins will examine ways in which Johnson manipulated contemporary media, and TV in particular, to express his fundamental principles and to influence public opinion on architecture. Petit will provide the response in this session.

In the final session of the symposium, architectural writers and critics Joan Ockman, Reinhold Martin, Michael Sorkin and Kazys Varnelis will discuss how Johnson used his social position to advance his own reputation and to promote younger generations of emerging architects. Yale professor Peggy Deamer will be the respondent on this panel.

Concluding remarks will be delivered by architects Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas.

All events at the Yale School of Architecture will take place in the landmark Art & Architecture Building, corner of York and Chapel streets. Events at Yale are free and open to the public, but reservations are required and should be made prior to February 6, 2006. Call 203-432-2889 or e-mail jennifer.castellon@yale.edu.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345