The sense that permeates Breuer’s Bohemia— one perhaps unsurprising for a catalogue on the life and work of this influential Bauhausian-furniture maker turned residential architect — is a love of architecture. There is love among its practitioners, centered around the life and work of Marcel Breuer, but touching upon an entire cohort of Modernist influencers, including IM Pei, Walter Gropius, Alexander Calder, Arthur Miller, among others. There is love evident among its patrons, who in Breuer’s case were influential trailblazers Rufus and Leslie Stillman and Andrew and Jamie Gagarin — and whose commitment to the progressive aesthetics of postwar architecture fostered an entire contemporary movement in residential New England. For readers who feel a similar love for the niche interests and wider aesthetics of midcentury Modern architecture, Breuer’s Bohemia is a treasure trove of imagery, letters, and media surrounding the interlocution between titans of the form, their patrons, and the impression they left on the landscape and the medium.
Author James Crump aptly lays out the intersecting lines between Breuer’s roots in the Bauhaus; the resettling of him and his colleagues around New York City in the grips of pre-WWII unrest; and the power of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to catapult their ideas about Modern architecture into the zeitgeist. Breuer was commissioned to create House in the Museum Garden, a 1949 installation in the MoMA’s courtyard, which Philip Johnson (whose legacy is lately under scrutiny due to his vocal support for Nazism) then director of the Department of Architecture and Design, conceived as a high-design answer to the Lustron House, an all-steel model tract house that was bidding to claim the burgeoning market of prefabricated housing for returning GI’s and their young families. His work at MoMA put him on the radar for a new wave of progressive couples looking to commission dream homes, and subsequently launched his previously-struggling architecture firm into the black.
Through personal correspondence, historic and contemporary images, and meticulous research laid out in large type, Breuer’s Bohemia captures a particularly vibrant nexus of midcentury Modern architecture, but also the passion and camaraderie that permeated the scene on a personal level. It is not only a deep dive into a lesser-known but greatly influential master of postwar residential aesthetics, but a look at the kind of wider conditions that facilitate truly fruitful meetings of minds, and even brief glimpses of utopia.
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