Mark Lamster | Essays

Mr. Wright Comes to Moloch

A place fit for banking and prostitution and not much else...a crime of crimes...a vast prison...triumph of the herd instinct...outgrown as overgrown....the greatest mouth in the world...humanity preying upon humanity...carcass...parasite...fibrous tumor....pig-pile...Inconguous mantrap of monstrous dimensions! Enormity devouring manhood, confusing personailty by frustration of individuality. Is this not Anti-Christ? The Moloch that knows no God but more?
Frank Lloyd Wright had rather strong opinions about New York City, as this epic catalog of insults so colorfully demonstrates. (It's taken from Herbert Muschamp's fine but slim book about Wright and the city, Man About Town.) For all his vitriol, Wright built his most famous building here — the Guggenheim — and that was in fact just one of many projects he designed in and around the city. He was more at home here than he admitted: he stayed at the Plaza, the only establishment of suitable grandeur for him, and enjoyed the bright lights and attention of celebrity. If a tendency to the hyperbolic is a natural condition of the New Yorker, than Wright fits just in. 

And so perhaps the great man is not looking down harshly from that Great Broadacre in the Sky, what with the news that his archive will be coming to New York, split between the Museum of Modern Art (which gets the models) and Columbia University (the correspondence, drawings, and other ephemera). It's a tremendous windfall for New York and for scholarship, as it will make this material far more accessible than in the past, and place Wright at the center of the architectural media universe.  

A bit of random convergence: over the last week I've actually been writing about Wright and New York, specifically his I'm-in-no-I'm-out-no-I'm-in vacillating in regards to the defining 1932 Modern Architecture exhibtion at MoMA (aka, The International Style show). He both wanted the exposure of the show, but didn't want to be a part of museum's "propaganda" — an encapsulation of his entire relationship with the city. However much he detested it, he couldn't stay away. And now he's here for good. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker.  

[note: that's a drawing of his House on the Mesa, the project he put in the show.]

Comments [7]

Uh.. the Guggenheim is not Wright's most famous building (That would be Fallingwater).

I like NYC too, but FLW's comments are pretty much statements of fact: the city that birthed Philip Johnson, Donald Trump and P.Diddy is All About the Benjamins... this is a crass city with crass architecture where taste and authenticity must be imported... even if FLW liked the energy of the city, i don't think he ever lost perspective enough not to lose his eye for detail, scale and taste.

Also, I could be wrong, but didn't Philip Johnson keep FLW out of the MoMA at the beginning because Johnson was an European International Style groupie (among other fascist hobbies)? I don't think that Wright was ever 'Sprockets' enough for him. Pretty sure that was the case.
Frank de Souza

i suppose you're welcome to your opinions about new york and taste, however ill-conceived. but:

google results:
guggenheim museum: 5,810,000
frank lloyd wright and guggenheim: 689,000
frank lloyd wright and fallingwater: 509,000

fallingwater is not more famous than the guggenheim, even adjusting for the relative subjectivity of "fame."

otherwise, you are wrong, johnson (btw: born and raised in ohio and north carolina, not nyc) BEGGED wright to be a part of the museum's first architectural exhibition.

facts matter.
Mark Lamster

Google is by no means an objective judge--as the Guggenheim is an active museum. If you do a Google image search, what is the image that dominates the screen? Fallingwater.
I don't see them as opinions about NYC so much as observations. It is no doubt the center of the media universe--but its powerful microphone can be taken over by those with crass (word of the day) taste and moneyed interests. There are a lot of great things in New York, but they exist in the shadows--not at MoMA or Broadway or Times Square.
The book Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years, 1954-1959, leads me to think that Wright objected to the Johnson and his 1932 MoMA show, because it was too heavily focused on machines and "less is more" which had taken over the Bauhaus. Beauty was not a part of their equation. At the same time, Johnson called Wright the "Greatest architect of the nineteenth century," and wanted to include him in a historical role. I'm sure Wright was thrilled about that. And... the international style continues to haunt modern architecture to this day.
Of course, as Johnson (who may have been born elsewhere, but was a New Yorker since prep school) later realized his error after modernism went out of style and Wright was trendy again in in the 1950s. The funny thing is that the Guggenheim is the most international style-ish thing Wright did.. a white-washed machine for viewing art. But it couldn't have been created by Mies, Johnson or anyone else.

Facts are bent by whoever is holding the microphone. Which is probably why Wright had a contentions relationship with Johnson... the microphone holder.
Frank de Souza

pj went to prep school in tarrytown (not nyc) and then spent seven years in cambridge. so your timeline is still off.

otherwise, wright did disapprove of the international style, but absolutely not because it was too functionalist or "beauty was not part of their equation." just the opposite. he was opposed because it was a STYLE, and one that could be achieved by a set of predetermined criteria.
Mark Lamster

keep it up boys, discussions about style, movements, beauty and fashion are the best.
again, oh lets not forget to keep beauty in the front line, a right chestnut

undisputed I think is "center of the architectural media universe".

I had not the pleasure of reading FLW's crit of NYC in many years.

Had I not the preface that he was talking about our fine city, I'd think that, in fact, he was referring to our modern suburbs & exurbs, with their thousands of identical Walmarts peddling mass merchandise, 4,000lb personal transportation machines, and other devices that devour a much greater share of resources per capita than our relatively modest urban denizens - and, alarmingly, a visit to any suburban mall or stadium may be all too revealing with regards to the term pig-pile...

Which comes to the ugliest truth about FLW: in his fetishization for suburban nature as a consumable for the well-to-do, he abetted and visualized the most energy consumptive, landscape destructive form of human settlement ever created.

In this light, Falling Water stands as a grotesque, the worst form of trophy hunting, a concrete crotch shot standing over the shot-dead pond - I'd take the old hunting cabin on the bluff any day.
Mr. Downer

How is Walmart or the suburbs in general not the ultimate manifestations of the hollow ethos of the Bauhaus? Walmart especially, a faceless machine with its Walmart logo on the side, like the Bauhaus. I think FLW was into authenticity, the whole point of architecture. Though I don't get his suburban master plans--everybody is a bucket of contradictions I guess.

At least NYC is authentic in its own nasty way. But its no Paris, Tokyo or even Chicago. My point is either you are on the side of good design, that values craft, solid & sustainable materials, lasting value that improves communities or you like crap. Just remember that in NYC they tore down Penn Station to build Mad Square Garden.
Frank de Souza

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