Dr Jeffrey Lieber

Texas State University, Texas

Jeffrey Lieber is a historian of modern art and architecture. The MIT Press published his first book, Flintstone Modernism, or the Crisis in Post-war American Culture in 2018. His articles on Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, and Paul Rudolph have appeared in such journals as Harvard Design Magazine, Design and Culture, and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Currently a professor of art history at Texas State University, he previously taught at Harvard University, The New School, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. .

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy: In Defense of Architecture.

*

Jeffrey Lieber is a historian of modern art and architecture. The MIT Press published his first book, Flintstone Modernism, or the Crisis in Post-war American Culture in 2018. His articles on Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, and Paul Rudolph have appeared in such journals as Harvard Design Magazine, Design and Culture, and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Currently a professor of art history at Texas State University, he previously taught at Harvard University, The New School, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Barbara Miller Lane published Architecture and Politics in Germany in 1968, the year of worldwide student protests. I want to take the reassessment of her book as a starting point for discussing the work of another architectural historian: Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. Aside from the fact of their gender—at a time when few women were working in the field—their approach to the subject could not be more different. Lane is cool, detached, scholarly, whereas Moholy-Nagy is fiery, resentful, and subjective. Highly personal accounts are usually treated suspiciously, but such an approach enlivens the writing of history—and in the case of Moholy-Nagy, can help us to understand the mindset of German émigré architects and designers. The question of tone is, in fact, significant as it relates to both gender and modernism. In the 1960s, a handful of male critics all but defamed Moholy-Nagy precisely because of her oppositional attitude toward “the great makers”—notably Gropius and Mies—her willingness to hammer away at the myths created for them by elite American institutions. She became embroiled in nasty feuds—with Serge Chermayeff, Herbert Bayer, and György Kepes, among others—and she endured vile sexist insults printed openly in the pages of the JSAH, which she gleefully returned in kind, even though it took a toll on her reputation. Relegated to the fringes, something she tried to turn to her advantage and treated as an irritating gadfly or fury; but more adversely, her writings never received the attention they deserved.