"I'm a Whore"

Just how much of a Nazi was Philip Johnson?

Architecture National
Mark Lamster's new book The Man in the Glass House includes new bits of information about Philip Johnson's infatuation with fascism. Pictured: The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, where Johnson spent much of his life. (Ezra Stoller/ESTO)
Mark Lamster's new book The Man in the Glass House includes new bits of information about Philip Johnson's infatuation with fascism. Pictured: The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, where Johnson spent much of his life. (Ezra Stoller/ESTO)

In The Man in the Glass House, released today, author Mark Lamster puts some meat on the bones of rumors of Philip Johnson’s many muddled improprieties.

“I’m a whore,” Johnson was known to proclaim, and from his curation of the first show on modernism at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932 to his willingness to let Donald Trump “Make Philip Johnson Great Again” (after the architect’s falling out with the partners that launched his second coming as a postmodernist), Johnson has proved to be American architecture and design’s most storied strumpet. He played whatever role he wished without much consequence.

A gossip but also an intellectual, it is easy to picture Johnson among today’s Elon Musks or Kanye Wests, a man of power fueled on provocation, publicity, and greasy alliances with often hollow reasoning and confusing motivations. Would he quote this and retweet it?  Absolutely.

Most sensational is Johnson’s interest in the Nazis, beginning in the early 1930s with an excitable viewing of a Hitler Youth rally in Berlin, continuing with an essay titled Architecture of the Third Reich, and the design of a grandstand for a noted anti-Semitic Catholic Priest.

While in Germany in the late 1930s, Johnson dined with Nazi financiers, telling the FBI later that the meals were “purely social.” Johnson hoped that the Nazis would jump on his idealized design agenda, but he would ultimately be unsatisfied by their disinterest. In the 1950s, Johnson would denounce his association with the Nazi party and partially atone for it by designing Israel’s Soreq Nuclear Research Center and later the Kneses Tifereth Israel Synagogue and forgoing his fee, a hollow gesture considering Johnson’s lifelong wealth. He would later justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, having more to do with his homoerotic fascination of their uniforms than their ideology.

The cover of <i>The Man in the Glass House</i>.

The cover of The Man in the Glass House (Courtesy Mark Lamster)

AN has compiled the following quotes from The Man in the Glass House that provide insight into his Nazi past:

“The Nazis were ‘Daylight into the ever-darkening atmosphere of contemporary America.’” Philip Johnson, pg. 165

“Submission to an artistic dictator is better than an anarchy of selfish personal opinion.” PJ, pg. 93

“Later he would rather unconvincingly justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, as a kind of homoerotic fascination with the Nazi aesthetic: all those chiseled blond men in jackboots and pressed uniforms. It was easier to whitewash sexual desire than the egregious social and political ideas that truly captivated him.”Mark Lamster, pg. 114

PJ on witnessing bombings in Poland: “the German green uniforms made the place look gay and happy.” PJ, pg. 179

“At the time he believed, however naively, that National Socialism might still be reconciled with modernism. He outlined this position in an essay, ‘Architecture in the Third Reich,’ that Lincoln Kirsten published in the October 1933 issue of Hound & Horn. Johnson conceded that the Bauhaus was ‘Irretrievably’ tarnished by its association with Communism, but suggested Mies was an ‘apolitical figure who would satisfy the new craving for monumentality’ while proving that ‘the new Germany is not bent on destroying all the modern acts which have been bent up in recent years.’ Hitler’s racist and menacing rhetoric, that he might be bent on destroying more than just modern art, was left unmentioned.” ML, pg. 118

“Johnson hoped that the Nazis would come around to the monumental power and abstract beauty of the Miesian aesthetic, and in that wish he would always be disappointed.” ML, pg. 94

“When interviewed in 1942, Johnson’s former secretary Ruth Merrill told the FBI that Johnson believed ‘the fate of the country’ rested on his shoulders, and that he wanted to be the ‘Hitler’ in the United States.”  ML, pg. 139

“Johnson would later admit to the FBI that he attended American Nazi Party rallies at Madison Square Garden, and became a financial benefactor of the Christian Mobilizers, an anti-Semitic organization of street brawlers.” ML, pg. 169

“We seem to forget, also, that we live in a community of people to which we are bound by the ties of existence, to some of whom we owe allegiance and obedience and to others of whom we owe leadership and instruction.”  PJ, pg. 163

“A more plausible scenario is that Johnson was exchanging information on the activities, politics, and membership of American fascist circles, and discussing the means by which the Germans might disseminate their propaganda. According to records captured after the war, the Nazi diplomats were specifically interested in obtaining mailing lists and names of individuals who might be sympathetic to their cause…Johnson, who had built a network of nationalist supporters in both Ohio and New York, was in a position to deliver precisely that type of material. Indeed, Johnson had been keeping confidential lists of would-be supporters since April 1934, when he instructed his private secretary, Ruth Merrill, to take names at the first fascist gathering at the duplex apartment he shared in New York with his sister.” ML, pg. 165

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