This Could Kill That: The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts Exhibition



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This Could Kill That:

The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts Exhibition

At the New York Museum of Modern Art

Kenneth Jacobs

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Architecture

Graduate School of Fine Arts

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

An exhibition titled “The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts” opened at the New York Museum of Modern Art on 29 October 1975.1 The main portion of the show consisted of 200 drawings made by students at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris between 1756 and 1906. Arthur Drexler, designer of the installation, and architectural historian David van Zanten jointly selected the drawings.2 The student work was supplemented by design and construction drawings made by École graduates Henri Labrouste and Charles Garnier for the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1850) and the Paris Opera (1861-75), and photographs of “Beaux-Arts style” French and American buildings.

In his review of the show, the New York Times’ architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote

…it is the drawings that are the show’s reason for being and they are incomparable. Visually, this is the most beautiful architectural exhibition in memory, and among the most attractive shows of any kind ever mounted in New York.”3

He also commended the installation and Drexler’s decision “not to imitate Beaux-Arts planning principles with a formal, axial gallery arrangement.” This bifurcated view was reflected throughout Goldberger’s observations which tended to oscillate between anxiety (“what appears to be a growing perception that the museum, once modernism’s most ardent champion, has thrust the modern movement aside”) and relief (“the exhibit is anything but an attempt to reject modern architecture out of hand”), and was reflective of increasing public, professional, and academic ambivalence toward modern architecture as well as the Museums’ increasingly indecisive views on the subject.

At the time of the exhibit, public expression of that ambivalence typically manifested itself in concern for the destruction of urban centers and communities, wariness of the new environments and cultures created as a result of that process, and appreciation of the environments and cultures that were lost.4 Professional and academic dissatisfaction revealed itself in the writings and projects of architects such as Arata Isozaki, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi, Charles Moore, and Herman Hertzberger. Although no simple commonality of thought or approach existed among such a diverse group of critics and practitioners, all were concerned in some way with the relationship of the distant and recent past to the city and contemporary practice, and their work often referred to, and occasionally incorporated literal quotations from, pre-modernist, early modernist, and “ordinary” buildings. By the time the Beaux-Arts show opened, these concerns and methods had been applied to a full range of building types by a significant and increasing number of American and international practitioners.5 The Museum seemed to acknowledge, if not condone, the changing situation by presenting exhibitions such as “Architecture Without Architects, An Introduction to Nonpedigreed Architecture” (9 November 1964 through 7 February 1965), in which vernacular design was valorized of professional and, perhaps most significantly, by publishing Venturi’s “gentle manifesto” Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture a year later.6

Nevertheless, the audacity of staging the Beaux-Arts exhibition in the belly of the beast was without precedent and, perhaps to calm the attendees who wore “Bring Back the Bauhaus” buttons to the show’s opening reception, the Times’ reviewer emphasized the rational and systematic nature of the system of thought behind the images and their kinship to modernist notions of architecture.

The 200 drawings on display at the Modern carry the message that the creation of a viable architecture requires a fundamental basic idea, and then an immense discipline. There are no formulas.

We always thought there were, of course, but that is modernist dogma again, which created the myth that Beaux-Arts architecture was merely a style of pompous historical cribbing. It wasn’t: for all its use of historical forms it was a system in which rational planning and organization played a crucial role, supplemented by the careful and often brilliantly inventive compositional development of exteriors.7

Despite the generally favorable tone of the review, the concerns of the button-wearers did surface when an especially virtuosic piece, a huge drawing of a seaside casino made by Louis-Hippolyte Boileau in 1897, received praise for its visual appeal and technical merit as well as castigation for its “overblown, grandiose quality which, while sometimes benign, can also point the way to totalitarianism.” Goldberger attributed this “darker side of the Beaux-Arts” to the influence of “an imperial culture,” an issue he felt was inadequately addressed in the exhibition. Without further explanation of the charge, the article closed with a caution against regarding the period of Beaux-Arts ascendancy as “a golden time that holds the answer to all our design problems,” and Goldberger expressed concern that infatuation with the period could lead to unthinking replacement of one ideology with another.


Drexler’s Dilemma


Arthur Drexler planned the Beaux-Arts show in response to his own unease with contemporary architecture: “Modern architecture is in a bad state, and the time has come to reexamine its basic philosophical assumptions.”8 He revealed the extent of his discomfort in an intensely personal Preface to the brochure that accompanied the exhibit.9

By the end of the third quarter of the century, the theoretical basis of modern architecture is as much a collection of received opinions as were the doctrines it overthrew. We think we know what modern architecture is – although it is notoriously difficult to define – and how it differs from what preceded it; but we are no longer so certain as to what it should become and how it should be taught. And since history is written by the victors, the literature of the modern movement has helped to perpetuate confusion as to what was lost, let alone what the battle was about.

Drexler began his review of that history with a quotation form a very different architectural exhibit mounted twenty-three years earlier.

“The battle of modern architecture,” Philip Johnson declared in 1952, “has long been won.” His observation prefaced Built in the USA: Post-war Architecture, a Museum of Modern Art catalog devoted to “the great post-war flowering of architecture in this country – which is so obvious around us.” “With the mid-century,” he concluded, “modern architecture has come of age.”10

Although Johnson’s confidence suggested universality of opinion, other portions of the catalogue not mentioned by Drexler contained hints of a more contentious past. Foremost among these was Johnson’s description of the Museum’s self-proclaimed role as arbiter of taste.

Twenty years ago the Museum was in the thick of the fight, but now our exhibitions and catalogs take part in that unending campaign described by Albert Barr [the Museum’s first director] as “simply the continuous, conscientious, resolute distinction of quality from mediocrity – the discovery and proclamation of excellence.”

To make this “proclamation” from time to time is the prime function of the Department of Architecture and Design.11

Johnson justified this role through an account of how modernist architecture, specifically the version based on a 1932 exhibit mounted by himself and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, had “ripened, spread, and been absorbed by the wide stream of progress.”12 Hitchcock’s take on this line of thought was no less assured.

Today there is no further need to underline the obvious fact that what used to be called “traditional” architecture is dead if not buried. It may be categorically stated that – and requires no illustrations to make such a statement plausible – that there is today no realm of building in which respectable modern work is not being done.13

While Johnson’s assertion that “The battle of modern architecture has long been won” was nearly true, his contention that “modern architecture has come of age” was somewhat less so. In pointing out the “startling” and “striking” differences between pre- and post-war modernist buildings, he seemed relieved to embrace the American domestication of modernist architecture, relegate once-powerful ideological associations to the past, and even belittle the appearance of buildings he had championed thirty years earlier.

Every building in this book [the Built in the USA: Post-war Architecture catalogue] would look different if it had not been for the International Style, yet few buildings recall the rigorous patterns of those days – the cubic boxes with asymmetric window arrangements so characteristic of the twenties.14

Hitchcock presented a more conciliatory view.

But modern architecture is not – as some have hoped and others feared – monolithic. Names that have already been mentioned here – Wright, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Mendelsohn, Alto, to recall only the better known – provide sufficient evidence that various directions, not necessarily opposed but certainly not strictly parallel, are represented in production of distinction.

To attempt to characterize the alternative directions of current architectural design too concretely would be to suggest that mid-century production is still eclectic in a superficial way; that clients consciously choose architects…who are for example Miesian or Wrightian. But this is an exaggerated dichotomy.

Nevertheless, in the next sentence, Hitchcock suggested that some “alternative directions of current architectural design” were better than others.

If there be a “school”, it would be that of Gropius [and the Bauhaus], whose leading position as an educator and whose discussion of theory in lectures and books provides a more coherent body of architectural doctrine than do Wright or the rather inarticulate Mies van der Rohe.15

It was this view that seemed to be at the heart of Drexler’s dissatisfaction, and he revealed the extent of his unhappiness in his comments on the “teaching and practice of the German Bauhaus, which replaced a French educational system that had evolved for over two hundred years.” Drexler wrote that this change took place as a result of a loss of connection between theory and practice at the École before World War I, claiming that the theories themselves prevented “a reintegration” (the phrase recall’s Hitchcock’s pre-International Style take on early modernist architecture, Modern Architecture, Romanticism and Reintegration16) because of the school’s satisfaction in solving problems others no longer perceived as “real.” The newer approach seemed to offer more: “defining – and solving – what seemed to be the right problems was the great achievement of the Bauhaus.” Nevertheless, while the Bauhaus excelled at this task and radically changed the nature of architectural education, it lasted only fourteen years. Drexler recognized that its momentum was lost within the lifetime of those it had trained, and this elegiac sense of missed opportunity tempered his enthusiasm for the Bauhaus in specific, and permeated his view of modernist architecture in general. Emilio Ambasz, curator at the Museum from 1969 to 1976, saw Drexler’s final years as those of “a beleaguered, deeply disillusioned man.”

You could see how his intellectual capital had been used, stressed, exhausted. It was the same capital on which the modern movement had been created, and he was one of the most lucid observers of its erosion. He was cursed with lucidity. In the end, Arthur saw himself as a defender of a heritage of architecture as a high art and of an abandoned system of values.17

While Drexler was frank enough to acknowledge that generalizations made about the Bauhaus were as likely to be inaccurate as those made about the École a generation or two earlier, his version of Bauhaus history seems justificatory, noting its birth as a “craft school, regarding craftsmanship as a necessary step toward the higher task of designing for machine production.” He also linked “the supposed moral integrity of the craftsman” to the school’s “social concern” and its preference for “simple geometric elements of unchanging value” suitable for machine production of artifacts “free of the shifting fashions of historical style.” However, by this time, Drexler had come to regard this system of beliefs as well intentioned, but ultimately misguided and, in certain situations, harmful.

The result of this conjunction of ideas was, of course, the creation of a brilliant historic style, lucid in its reductionist simplicity but not necessarily simple in fact; reasonably responsive to the requirements of practical use (function); and most successful in the design of small-scale objects, particularly furniture. In architecture, its moralizing fixation on utility and industrial technique lead to an anti-historical bias the consequences of which have yet to be fully understood, although they are all too painfully obvious wherever modern architecture has dealt with the urban environment. The modern movement has prided itself on its “urbanism,” but to be anti-historical is to be anti-urban.18

In a dispiriting conclusion, Drexler acknowledged the irrational basis of faith in “redemption through good design,” and wrote that “today, in architecture as in everything else, messianic fervor seems naive when it is not actually destructive.” He noted that architecture had not yet benefited from “a relaxation of dogma,” but found the irony and humor in contemporary Italian design a poor substitute for “moral imperatives.” However, his contention that contemporary architects were so lacking in convictions that they could find agreement only in efforts to preserve “what is left of Beaux-Arts architecture wherever it may be found” suggested that he was no stranger to irony.19 Finding no solace in modernism or historicism, he seemed to split the difference by positing Louis Kahn as the sole bearer of the École’s true qualities. “The architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts again rewards faithful study,” he wrote, but he added, “We have rediscovered some of its problems.”

These “problems” were related to “planning concepts,” “the most readily accessible” twentieth century aspect of the École,20 and Drexler attributed them to the schooling received by the majority of American architects trained up to the 1940s. He claimed that despite Beaux-Arts concerns for correspondence of elevation and internal organization, the approach fostered a sense of “apparent unrelatedness, or independence, of elevation and section from the nature of the plan,” and claimed that it contributed to “the eclectic use of historic styles, which during the last decade of the nineteenth century exploded in a frenzy of ornament and megalomania.” However, he also seemed to advocate a conciliatory position by noting that “the Beaux-Arts was of course no more monolithic in its ideas and objectives than the Bauhaus.” He described the École’s inconsistencies as having the potential to “clarify and enhance the underlying continuities,” and suggested that “the question of how to use the past may perhaps be seen now as [having] possibilities that are liberating rather than constraining.” He concluded by summarizing the personally painful and introspective process that led him to stage the exhibit: “Now that modern experience so often contradicts modern faith, we would be well advised to reexamine our architectural pieties.”


The Catalogue


Eighteen months after the Beaux-Arts exhibition closed, its catalogue appeared as a large book containing a collection of essays illustrated with an abundance of large-scale color and black-and-white illustrations of the exhibit drawings and photographs. Drexler’s contribution consisted of his exhibit brochure Preface and a new piece, “Engineer’s Architecture: The Truth and Its Consequences.” His choice of topic and title contrasted sharply with the other essays written by Richard Chafee (“The Teaching of Architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts”), David van Zanten (“Architectural Composition at the École des Beaux-Arts from Charles Percier to Charles Garnier”), and Neil Levine (“The Romantic Idea of Architectural Legibility: Henri Labrouste and the Néo-Grec”), all of whom were rising young scholars in the relatively new field of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French architectural studies.

While the revisionist aspects of the other contributors were tempered by conscious academic rigor, Drexler’s essay returned to the ruminative themes of his Preface, but his writing seemed even more acidic.21

Art is a lie, Picasso declared. “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” The “lie” whereby architecture most readily convinces us of its “truth” is that form responds to necessity. Which necessity, and which forms are appropriate to it, are questions each historical style answers differently, but in all times the architect is sustained by the idea that his preference for certain kinds of form is validated by a force external to himself – the necessity imposed by society, or techniques, or God. Forms are manipulated in order to make explicit whichever of these external validations the architect affirms as the most satisfying explanation of the nature of existence. The futility of so much critical discourse results, first, from confusing the fiction with the truth, and second, accepting conceptual truth as if it had the power to banish fiction from the world forever.22

The forms that troubled him most seem to be those that came as a result of “seek[ing] to purify techniques until they become the visible record of the act of building and nothing more.” In this sense, “modern architecture is uniquely the Engineering Style.” Drexler wrote that the history of the modern movement and the cause of its problems were based on “the effort to establish architecture on a necessity that would seem irrefutable – followed by the effort to escape the consequences.” He claimed to see the presence of these destructive tendencies in nearly all aspects of post-Renaissance architecture and seemed eager to try something new.

That our architecture is not all we wish for, and that its effects are not universally admired, are issues now familiar to the layman as well as the professional. To confront these problems is neither to lament the loss of innocence nor to betray a heroic mission; rather it is to suggest a perspective that might free energy for a different type of integration.23

Although he was not clear about what that “different type of integration” might be, he believed that it should not be based on a “dominant utilitarian view of existence.”

If the possibilities of non-reductive form were to be examined, their manifestations might well bypass the historical revivalism architects fear: they might culminate in a non-reductive interpretation of technology itself. Introspection and a little good humor could lead modern architecture out of its resentment, and allow us to continue the exploration of freedom.24

However, in his continuing rejection of historical forms and embrace of technology, Drexler may not have traveled as far as he hoped to.


Reaction


The most visceral response to the Beaux-Arts exhibition came from two groups: practicing architects and critics, and academic architects and theoreticians. These groups were themselves split between those who maintained their faith in “traditional” modernism and those who lost or were about to loose it.25 Civilians had an easier time, tending to write pieces that were more descriptive than analytical, and emphasizing the lushness and temps perdus qualities of the drawings and projects.26

All of the major American architectural magazines ran heavily illustrated pieces on the show, and it was sometimes difficult to tell if the images were intended to be cautionary or exemplary. An article published in the AIA Journal shortly after the exhibit opened was among the most provocative. Concerned with differences between the Beaux-Arts system of education and design and those employed in the early modern movement, it was written by an assistant professor at Pratt Institute’s school of architecture who had studied with Kahn. The article described a sense of alienation said to accompany the modern movement’s emphasis on “function” rather than “meaning,” and its author claimed to see the end of this trend, albeit in different manifestations, in the work of Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi. He also saw the influence of their ideas extended in the work of Michael Graves, Robert Stern, and Aldo Giurgola, but could not imagine the return of a “Beaux-Arts vocabulary.”27

The attention of Progressive Architecture was focused more on the concerns of practicing architects than theory. In an editorial published shortly after the show opened, its editor wrote that the exhibition and catalogue would harm the “public image” of the profession because “they will expose the lack of conviction in the architectural community and provide pretexts for various attacks.” However, he also claimed that the internal discussions provoked by the show could be beneficial because they would lead to better understanding of the “early Moderns” by more closely defining the object of their rebellion.28

Architectural Record’s article was published after the exhibit closed and was the least strident, perhaps because it was written by an architect who studied at the École from 1937 to 1948 and with Walter Gropius from 1945 to 1947. With the exception of an elegant swipe at the exhibit’s host (“there was…some understandable bewilderment at the fact that the exhibition was organized by the Museum of Modern Art – an institution that spent the first ten of the last 40 years attacking the École, ten more years ridiculing it, and 20 more ignoring it entirely”), it consisted of a description of the École’s pedagogical methods and the beneficial influence of those methods on American architects.29

Perhaps the most organized response to the show took the form of a Beaux-Arts Exhibition forum held at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York shortly after the show closed but before the catalogue was released.30 Speakers were divided among modernists, “others,” and scholars, and the discussion was concerned with assessing the importance of the École for modern architectural practice. While the modernists (William Conklin, Ulrich Franzen, James Rossnat, Paul Rudolph, Peter Smithson, and Henry Cobb) appreciated the drawings as student artwork, they suggested that absence of social concerns in the buildings depicted in them made them irrelevant as architecture. In contrast, the “others” (Robert Stern, Denise Scott-Brown, and Robert Venturi, the latter two not attending but providing written statements) claimed to see the beneficial presence of Beaux-Arts principles in the early modern movement and a resultant loss of humanity and technical quality after those aspects were purged for ideological reasons. The academics (George Baird, Vincent Scully, and Anthony Vidler) were more concerned with the exhibition as a significant event in the on-going reassessment of modernism than with its relation to current practice.

Critical reaction to the catalogue was more subdued than to the exhibit itself. Although most reviews acknowledged the overtly polemical content of Drexler’s essay and treated his piece differently from the others, a charge that all of the essays sacrificed historical accuracy to make their points was common. Nevertheless, all of the reviewers agreed that opening previously ignored areas of architectural and social history to examination was beneficial, and that publication of the catalogue represented an initial step in this direction.31

Aftermath


When the exhibit closed on 4 January 1976, the same New York Times critic who covered its opening summarized the show as

…merely a grouping of 200 drawings of student projects done in the 19 and early 20thth centuries at the École des Beaux-Arts, the architectural school that created the grandiose variation on classicism we now call the Beaux-Arts style. A few photographs of built Beaux-Arts buildings, such as the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and the Paris Opera were thrown in as a sort of coda, and that was about it.32

However, he also noted that “few events in the architectural community have excited as much talk…. The exhibition is now dismantled, but the debate it unleashed seems likely to last for some time.”33

The source and ferocity of that debate was perhaps most clearly recognized and acknowledged by Drexler in his remarks at the Beaux-Arts Exhibition forum.34 While noting that some members of the architectural community saw an ulterior motive on the part of the Museum in its staging of the show, i.e., a desire to “bring on a Beaux-Arts revival,” he denied any basis for that belief, but regarded it as an “understandable” response to “an implied criticism of the Modern Movement.”35 He suggested a plausible reason for the popularity of such thought in the comments of “a well-known architect-educator-critic” whose name he did not divulge. Drexler summarized those comments by saying that while the anonymous architect agreed that modern architecture had become “a rather dismal affair” and “its effects on the cities has been disastrous,” its faults were justifiable, “despite all evidence to the contrary,” because it removed or lessened class distinctions. Therefore, any criticism of the modern movement was a “betrayal of the class struggle.” In clear disagreement, Drexler posited a more amorphous relationship of architecture to society and dismissed the “mythic perception of the architect as an agent of social reform.”

If architecture has any social meaning, it must be that its forms validate rather than undermine the institutions of society. But replacing one set of architectural forms with another will hardly correct disorders that are primarily social, not architectural. And a preference for certain kinds of forms may itself be part of the social disorder. Brutality in architecture remains brutality for its own sake whether paid for by capitalists or communists.

Drexler also acknowledged the passionate feelings among “an educated public” against “the forms we now associate with modern architecture.” While he recognized the validity of the critique, he seemed to be uncomfortable with it and assigned it a lesser significance, stating that “to recognize this does not mean that we must have a revival of historicism….”36

In these statements, Drexler demonstrated his recognition that the divided response to the exhibit reflected two constituencies whose concerns were nearly autonomous: those who believed that a commitment to social progress was the essential quality of modern architecture that transcended and could excuse its physical manifestations, and those for whom any ideology was irrelevant and/or insufficient to atone for those manifestations. Drexler had not resolved that dichotomy for himself, and the exhibit displayed the unease of its curator and audience a prominently as its drawings and photographs. As the Times’ critic concluded

…unlike paintings, when these drawings are left to speak for themselves as pure art their voice is feeble; what deeper meaning they have comes from how they are interpreted in terms of the history of architecture. By giving us only a hint of any interpretation the museum had the odd effect of appearing rather coy, and of encouraging the confusing debate that swirled around it galleries.37



1NOTES

This paper has its origins in a Spring 2000 graduate seminar on twentieth century architecture given by David Delong at the University of Pennsylvania. A version was presented later that year at the annual conference of the Modernist Studies Association in a session chaired by David Brownlee.



2 Drexler (1925-1987) served as curator and, ultimately, director of the Museum's Department of Architecture and Design between 1951 and 1987. Born in New York City, he was an autodidactic whose professional training consisted of a single year at Cooper Union. Before Philip Johnson brought him to the Museum, Drexler worked for George Nelson (1947-1948) and as the editor of Interiors magazine (1948-1950). Andrea Oppenheimer Dean, “Arthur Drexler Remembered by Colleagues and Architects,” Architecture, March 1987, pp. 32, 36.

3 Paul Goldberger, “Beaux-Arts Architecture at the Modern,” New York Times, 29 October 1975, p. 50. Goldberger graduated from Yale in 1972 where he studied with Vincent Scully. Photographs of the installation appear in Stanley Abercrombie, “Beaux-Arts at the Modern,” Artforum, vol. 14, no. 6 (1975-76), pp. 52-53.

4 These issues were taken up in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961). Jacobs was an editor of Architectural Forum when the book was published, and she emphasized the urban basis and inter-relatedness of these concerns.

5 A forum held by the Harvard Architectural Review on 5 November 1977 debated the achievements of these architects. Comments were offered by “traditional” modernists (Jerzy Soltan, Stanford Anderson, Cesar Pelli), and those whose work was moving in a different direction (Peter Eisenman, John Hedjuk, Leon Krier, Donlyn Lyndon, Robert Stern, and Stanley Tigerman). “Beyond the Modern Movement,” Harvard Architectural Review, vol. 1 (Spring 1980), pp. 190-217.

6 Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture Without Architects, An Introduction to Nonpedigreed Architecture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964); Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1966). Venturi’s book was written in 1962 and edited for publication by Drexler. Aldo Rossi’s L’Architetura della Citta was also published in 1966 (Padua: Marsilio, 1966). For an account of the period and use of the term “postmodern” within an architectural context, see Heinrich Klotz, The History of Postmodern Architecture, Radka Donnell, trans. (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1988) originally published as Moderne und Postmoderne: Architektur der Gegenwart (Braunschweig and Weisbaden: Friedr. Viewg & Sohn Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1984), pp. 3-5.

7 Goldberger, “Beaux-Arts Architecture at the Modern.”

8 Quoted in John Morris Dixon, “Blessing the Beaux-Arts,” Progressive Architecture, vol. 56, no. 11 (November 1975), p. 7. The comment was made at a panel discussion held at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York shortly after the show closed. See 30 below.

9 The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts [brochure] (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1975). Ann van Zanten wrote the remainder of the brochure, a brief history of the École illustrated by a few reproductions of drawings included in the show. A much larger exhibition catalogue bearing the same title was not published until June 1977. The brochure and catalog covers are identical and accurately reflect the sprit of the exhibit: the front shows a chaste rendering of an Ionic capital, the rear a lush photograph of the main staircase of the Paris Opera.

10 Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Arthur Drexler, eds., Built in the USA: Post-war Architecture (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952).

11 Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in the USA, p.8. A similar “proclamation” was made in an earlier show, “Built in U.S.A. 1932-1944.”

12 Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in the USA, p.9. The reference is to the “Modern Architecture, International Exhibition” held at the Museum of Modern Art 10 February through 23 March 1932 and its catalogue, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, The International Style: Architecture Since 1932 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1932).

13 Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in the USA, p.11. Hitchcock never recanted on this point, but six years later he seems to have softened his tone: “There is hardly a country in the world where buildings of traditional design are not being erected; but whatever life twentieth-century traditional architecture retained as late as the second and even third decade of the twentieth century had departed by the fourth. Post-mortems on traditional architecture have been many – and often premature. The causes of death are still disputable, but the fact of dissolution is by now generally accepted. Yet the last years of traditional architecture were not completely senile. However much the youthful vitality of the newer architecture attracts sympathy and attention, as late as 1930 its impact on building production was in most countries a very limited one. It is fortunate, therefore, that not all traditional architecture of the years 1900-30 need be dismissed with scorn, even if the standards by which it must be judged remain those of the nineteenth rather than of the twentieth century.” Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1958), p. 394.

14 Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in the USA, p.9.

15 Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in the USA, p.15.

16 Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Modern Architecture, Romanticism and Reintegration (New York: Payson and Clarke, Ltd., 1929).

17 Dean, “Arthur Drexler Remembered,” p. 36.

18 The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts [brochure], p.3.

19 This situation was anticipated and considered desirable by Hitchcock. Hitchcock and Drexler, Built in USA, pp. 18-19.

20 David De Long pointed out that this position was also held by a variety of modern architects and critics including Wright, Sullivan, and Banham.

21 The title of the essay alludes to "Truth or Consequences," a television game show that first aired in 1950. Contestants tried to answer a question, usually unanswerable, before a buzzer sounded. If they succeeded, they received a small sum of money. If they failed, and nearly all did, they had to “face the consequences,” an elaborate stunt intended to make them look foolish. The show was most popular from 1966 to 1974; it appeared sporadically as late as 1987.

22 Arthur Drexler, ed., The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts [catalogue], (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977), pp. 13-14.

23 Drexler, The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts [catalogue], p. 58.

24 Drexler, The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts [catalogue], p. 59.

25 Art publications also paid attention to the exhibition, although architectural historians often wrote the reviews. These journals also tended to be divided over the idea of reintroducing discredited modes of thought and form into contemporary practice. Joseph Connors, “The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts,” ARLIS/NA Newsletter, vol. 6, no. 6 (Nov. 1978), pp. 112-113; John Jacobus, “Architects without Architecture: Reflections on the Beaux-Arts ‘Revival’,” Art in America, vol. 64, no. 2 (March-April 1976), pp. 48-52; Carter Ratcliff, “New York Letter,” Art International, vol. 20, no. 2-3 (February-March 1976), p. 37.

26 Russell Lynes, “A grand school of academic design is reexamined,” Smithsonian, vol. 6, no. 8 (October 1978), pp. 78-86, was typical. Ada Louise Huxtable, “Beaux-Arts – the latest avant-garde,” New York Times Magazine, 26 October 1975, pp. 76-82, was more opinionated and expressed view similar to those of Drexler.

27 John Lobell, “The Beaux-Arts: A Reconsideration of Meaning in Architecture,” AIA Journal, vol. 64, no. 5 (November 1975), pp. 32-37. Between Silence and Light: Spirit in the Architecture of Louis I. Kahn (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1979).

28 Dixon, “Blessing the Beaux-Arts.”

29 Jean Paul Carlhian, “Beaux-Arts or ‘Bozarts’,” Architectural Record, vol. 159, no. 1 (January 1976), p. 131.

30 A record of the event was published as William Ellis, ed., “Forum: The Beaux-Arts Exhibition,” Oppositions, no. 8 (Spring 1977), pp. 160-175.

31 Peter Collins, “The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 84-85; Carl W. Condit, “The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts,” Technology and Culture, vol. 19, no. 4 (October 1978), pp. 738-740; Robbin Middleton, “Vive L’École” in The Beaux Arts, AD Profile 17, vol. 98, no. 11-12, pp. 38-56; Norman Neuerburg, “The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 85-86; Carter Ratcliff, “Museum Catalogues,” Art in America, vol. 66, no. 2 (March-April 1978), pp. 19-20; David Watkin, “Conservative Principle,” Apollo, vol. 107, no. 193 (March 1978), pp. 229-230.

32 Paul Goldberger, “Debate Lingers After Beaux-Arts Show,” New York Times, 6 January 1976, p. 38.

33 Goldberger, “Debate Lingers After Beaux-Arts Show.”

34 William Ellis, ed., “Forum: The Beaux-Arts Exhibition,” pp. 174-175.

35 Emilio Ambasz claimed that Drexler’s real reason for putting on the show was not ideological: “Arthur had the nose to sense that architects were longing to recover a capacity to invent ornament. The show lost its edge in conveying the notion that there was a catalogue of images from which you could crib rather than inventing a new architecture that would generate its own ornament.” Dean, “Arthur Drexler Remembered,” p. 38.

36 Drexler included a relatively small quantity of historicist-derived work in his next architectural exhibition, “Transformations in Modern Architecture,” held at the Museum of Modern Art 23 February through 24 April 1979. Arthur Drexler, ed., Transformations in Modern Architecture (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979).

37 Goldberger, “Debate Lingers After Beaux-Arts Show.”


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