Sarah M. Dreller deposited Curtained Walls: Architectural Photography, the Farnsworth House, and the Opaque Discourse of Transparency in the group History of Art on Humanities Commons 1 year, 3 months ago
This paper studies the creation, circulation, and reception of two groups of photographs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House, both taken by Hedrich Blessing. The first set, produced for a 1951 Architectural Forum magazine cover story, features curtains carefully arranged according to the architect’s preferences; the Museum of Modern Art commissioned the second set in 1985 for a major Mies retrospective exhibition specifically because the show’s influential curator, Arthur Drexler, believed the curtains obscured Mies’s so-called “glass box” design. Through comparative object-based analysis and in-depth exploration of the images’ discursive context, “Curtained Walls” finds both groups of photographs to be quasi-fictional portraits that are valuable today for how they engaged various modernist concerns rather than as reliable architectural representations. Ultimately, this paper complicates the history of a building famous for being minimal—and questions whether these photographs helped direct critical opinion of the Farnsworth House toward a transparency-focused narrative and away from other potential interpretations.