Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson

Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson

The publication „Partners in Design“ presents an illustration of the cooperation between the historian Alfred H. Barr Jr. and the architect Philip Johnson. The book was first published by The Monacelli Press in 2015 in English and 2017 in German by Arnoldsche Art Publishers.

Alfred H. Barr Jr. (1902–1981) and Philip Johnson (1906–2005) count among the most influential advocates of the Bauhaus style in North America. Their enthusiasm is a result of numerous visits to Europe in the 1920s, where they gained experience of the works of leading exponents of modern architecture and were personally in touch with the protagonists: whether it was with Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.


Promotion of Bauhaus ideas in the USA

The attraction of Bauhaus for Barr and Johnson becomes evident in the USA, where they spread the idea of modernism. This becomes obvious in particular through their cooperation in the Museum of Modern Art, where Alfred H. Barr Jr. founding director worked and appointed Philip Johnson as manager for the department of architecture. Whereas in Bauhaus visual art, applied art and performing arts were combined, in the Museum of Modern Art, which was founded in 1929, the fields of architecture und design stood from the beginning on equal footing with the fine arts; exhibitions such as „Modern Architecture“ (1932) and „Machine Art“ (1934) are considered to this day to be ground-breaking for the awareness of architecture and design in North America.


Cooperation and lifelong friendship in focus

Philip Johnson in particular, as curator, brought the Bielefeld exhibition into focus and shifted a reconstruction of his show „Machine Art“ into the centre. Conversely, the publication views more clearly the cooperation and lifelong friendship of Barr and Johnson, who had met already in 1929 at the Wellesley College near Boston, where Barr had been lecturing since 1927. With contributions from the editor and curator David H. Hanks as well as from design experts Donald Albrecht, Barry Bergdoll und Juliet Kinchin, readers acquire a comprehensive insight into the exciting cultural scene of the 1920s und 1930s in New York together with relevant changes in appreciation of design and architecture. A particular role for the works of Barr and Johnson is thereby played by their houses, as Hanks demonstrates. Thus Barr and Johnson lived not only in the same block in New York, they also considered their dwellings as laboratories for modern living. Hence the „Partners in Design“, in addition to archive documents and illustrations of furniture, textiles and other design items, also photos are collected, providing insights into the habitats. In Philip Johnson’s living room we soon discover furniture from the Barcelona series of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who received in 1930 the assignment to furnish Johnson’s apartment in the Southgate Complex 424, East 52nd Street.


Successful publication for the upcoming Bauhaus anniversary

With regard to the centenary event of the Bauhaus in 2019 the book describes the extensive influence of Barr and Johnson on the architecture of the USA. Once more the immense significance of the art academy is emphasised, which stood in Weimar and Dessau from 1919 until 1933. It furthermore becomes apparent that striving for a new appreciation of art, design and architecture in society was a transnational objective. „Partners in Design“ reveals also the activities of Philip Johnson as curator, who is mainly known as pioneer of the international style and later attracted attention as representative of postmodern architecture.

Partners in Design*

Posted on 09.11.2017

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