What is today a trite proverb — that behind every great man is a great woman — was once a radical idea. When deployed by second-wave feminists, it invoked systemic, gendered self-sacrifice, generations of housewives, caretakers, and clerical workers whose labor and support propped up countless powerful men. Eva Hagberg’s When Eero Met His Match: Aline Louchheim Saarinen and the Making of an Architect (Princeton University Press, 2022) is ostensibly about the great woman, critic and publicist Aline Louchheim, behind a great man, architect Eero Saarinen. We have Louchheim to thank, Hagberg argues, for Saarinen’s enduring influence on mid-century architecture, and When Eero Met His Match makes a strong case for “how her work — her words — are just as integral to Saarinen’s legacy as the buildings themselves.”
But Louchheim and Saarinen’s relationship wasn’t rooted in altruism or exploitation — it was much more intentional than that. Parsing the couple’s many letters to each other, Hagberg paints Louchheim as a skilled tactician, who leveraged power dynamics and skirted journalistic ethics to get what she wanted. As it happens, what she wanted was to champion Saarinen’s work and supercharge his career. She was fiercely ambitious and, shrewdly, downplayed that ambition when male egos needed stroking: When trying to convince Saarinen of something, Hagberg observes, one of Louchheim’s “most frequent strategies … was to pretend to be clueless.”
Reading through the couple’s correspondence, I sometimes cringed at how Louchheim would prostrate and belittle herself for Saarinen. I also initially balked at Hagberg’s quickness to interpret those moments of self-deprecation as acts of subterfuge. But Hagberg’s literary analysis is meticulous and ultimately persuasive: It is undeniable that Louchheim was a woman with immense savvy — and a limited set of tools at her disposal.
Hagberg herself worked for years as an architectural publicist, and she draws amply from her own experiences to critique contemporary understandings of architecture. Like every art form, architecture exists not in a vacuum but an ecosystem, one in which media plays a key role. The writings of critics and publicists shape how we receive, interpret, and remember the work of architects. In the real world, letting a structure — or any work of art — “speak for itself” rarely pans out. Hagberg encourages us to embrace “language and narrative” as “an integral part of the practice of architecture.”
Combining biography, history, personal narrative, and cultural criticism, and sweetened with a dash of epistolary romance, When Eero Met His Match brings Louchheim — and an entire branch of architectural practice and production — out of the shadows.
How does a selective competition fit with the contemporary art world’s aspirations toward greater inclusivity?
Critical race theory, which has been attacked by conservative lawmakers, is conspicuously absent, as are many contemporary and living Black artists.
“Dignity of Earth and Sky,” unveiled in 2016, raises questions about who should depict Native people and how they should be portrayed.
In this online exhibition, Indigenous artists reclaim realities long denied them by US and Canadian federal governments — including moments of collective reverie.
At this year’s Sundance International Film Festival, more than half the feature-length movies were made by directors who identify as women.
In her novel Tell Me I’m an Artist, Chelsea Martin questions whether art offers a refuge from the world.
Ten artists will receive studio space and access to faculty, staff, students, workshops, and programming at an arts institution in the heart of Philadelphia.
The US government has lifted a Trump-era ban that kept formerly imprisoned people from accessing their works.
A work of art will be on the line when the Philadelphia Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday.
With two exhibitions at SoFi Stadium, the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection seeks to engage a different art audience.
The works that best exemplify a uniquely German grotesque in Reexamining the Grotesque are those that reflect the war and Weimar years.