Sex and Real Estate

Sounds fun. One could argue that love is a form of control, and art is a form of freedom. Merging the two can be combustible.

Sex and Real Estate
Plays about architects don’t have much of a track record in New York, at least not since Ibsen’s “The Master Builder.” In January, the Times dismissed a new play about Frank Lloyd Wright as a “dreary drama” that focussed too much on Wright’s tirades against contractors, a subject that, however easy it may be for people to identify with, doesn’t make for stirring theatre. But things might turn out differently for “The Glass House,” a new play that explores the story of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which was completed in 1951, outside Chicago, if only because it is a play about architecture only in the sense that “A Streetcar Named Desire” is a play about public transit. “The Glass House” explores the romantic relationship between a female client and a male architect that merely happens to have, at its center, one of the most famous houses in history. The tensions between Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who dreamed of commissioning a great work of architecture, and Mies van der Rohe, who seduced her into letting him build the house he wanted, represent the stresses of almost every client-architect relationship. “It is the story of people who were together for five years and built this wonderful house, and then they sued each other,” June Finfer, the playwright, said the other day. ... At the first reading, two weeks ago at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre, Hilary Lewis, an architectural historian who has written books about Philip Johnson, showed up. (Johnson is a character in the play.) So did Christy MacLear, who is in charge of Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut. They watched Edith Farnsworth fall in love with Mies, hire him to build what would turn out to be a house of sublime beauty, and then become enraged as costs soared and the architect, with the house nearly complete, withdrew from their relationship and returned to his longtime girlfriend, Lora Marx, but not before refusing to allow Farnsworth to bring her own furniture and art into the house, insisting that they would destroy the purity of his design. Farnsworth banned him from the house, whereupon he sued her for unpaid fees, and she countersued, claiming that the building was defective. Mies won the suit, but never again visited the house.

“People say I’m a fool to build this house,” Edith Farnsworth says in the play.

“You said you wanted to advance the art of architecture,” Mies responds.

“I did, but I thought you were building a house for me,” Farnsworth says. “My house is a monument to Mies van der Rohe, and I am paying for it.”

“When you hire a great artist, you are supposed to be thrilled with what you get,” Philip Johnson tells Farnsworth. “Would you tell Picasso what to paint?”

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on May 13, 2007 8:41 PM.

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