Philip Johnson’s grandiose pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair wasn’t the only skeleton exhumed from his past today. The first public viewing of the pavilion in 27 years was followed by the release online of the renowned architect’s FBI file by the Paleofuture blog, where it was obtained via Freedom of Information Act request. The file, which comprises 171 pages of letters, memoranda, and other documents detailing the architect’s public and private life, reignites the discussion over his controversial Nazi sympathies at a time of intense public interest in the fate of some of his work. Embedded in two parts below, the trove reveals that Johnson was the target of a White House background check in 1963, which Paleofuture presumes was linked to his involvement with the 1964 World’s Fair as architect of the New York State pavilion.
The dossier begins with a comprehensive internal FBI memorandum noting that “since 1932” Johnson, a “homo-sexual,” has “expressed his interest in the coming Revolution and has stated that things will be different ‘when the revolution comes.'” Other letters in the cache are more mysterious, like an anonymous communication from a “loyal American citizen” who writes that though Johnson’s family, or “his people,” are beyond reproach, Philip Johnson “is mesmerized by this evil that is trying overpower the good in the world.”
Other documents reveal the complex relationship that emerged between the official institutions that sought Johnson’s cachet as a celebrity architect and his apparent antagonism to US political interests. One finds, for example, a memo regarding Ambassador John C. Wiley’s desire to have “Private Philip C. Johnson, Company B, 259th Engineers, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as an architect to consult and work on the proposed plans for the new American Embassy residence in Bogota, Colombia.” Wiley attests that “Johnson was never truly pro-Nazi and … has discharged his obligation as a soldier in the American Army with credit.” The ambassador then notes that Johnson may soon be leaving the military and as such “would be an excellent person to commission” to build his house.
The architect, who died in 2005, was active with these sympathies from 1932 to 1940. He later repudiated this period of his life, including in a 1993 Vanity Fair interview. “I have no excuse [for] such utter, unbelievable stupidity. … I don’t know how you expiate guilt,” Johnson said.
Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!