Ed Driscoll

Triumph of the Phil

After reading Andrew Nagorski’s review of historian Jonathan Petropoulos’ recent book Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, I downloaded it yesterday for the Kindle. I’m about a third of the way through the book, but I did skip ahead to read what Petropoulos had to say about Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister, whose patrician style and self-serving speech charmed the judges sufficiently to escape the gallows at the Nuremberg trial. This passage is a riot:

In an interview with critic Robert Hughes in the 1970s, not long removed from a twenty-year stint in an Allied jail cell, and by that time a best-selling author, Albert Speer ruminated on present-day architects whom he admired. The first name he uttered was Philip Johnson — one of the titans of modernism. Johnson himself had been sympathetic to Fascism in the 1930s. He had been dazzled by the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1938 and had been invited by the Reich Propaganda Ministry to witness the German invasion of Poland in 1939, where he commented that the Wehrmacht soldiers in their “green uniforms made the place look gay and happy.” Yet this was not the reason for Speer’s admiration for his American peer. The Nazi architect asked Hughes “to send the compliments of the Masterbuilder to the Formgiver,” and he inscribed a book on his architecture to Johnson; he added that he thought that Johnson’s recent AT &T building “was more in the spirit of his own work than anything he had seen by an American architect since 1945.”

Petropoulos doesn’t elaborate on how he took the news, but deep down, Philip must have been orgasmic. But then, as Marga Barr, the wife of Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art told Hilton Kramer of the New York Times and the New Criterion magazine in 1987, “I feel about Philip today the way I would feel about a beloved son who had gone into a life of crime.”