Mies, Farnsworth, Durer and Duchamp

    Today I saw this very odd engraving that I had never seen before:

    Durer Perspective
    Albrecht Dürer
    Illustration of a perspective machine
    Published in The Painter's Manual in 1525

    The grid, the gaze, the bisecting window pane, the rationalist approach of the artist/technologist reminded me of Mies van der Rohe and his design for a weekend house in the woods for a single woman:

    Mies Farnsworth House

    Did Edith Farnsworth feel at times nearly like the woman in Durer's engraving? Archivoyeurs made their ways through the woods to ogle the house. Dr. Farnsworth told of stepping out of her shower to be confronted by a group of Japanese archilovers snapping photos. The stares caused her to write, "I would prefer to move as the women do in the Old Quarter of Tripoli, muffled in unbleached homespun so that only a hole is left for them to look out of."

    Her house in Plano though, was very bleached.


    I've long thought of Marcel Duchamp in the same frame as Mies. Particularly Duchamp's

    Marcel Duchamp Large Glass

    Large Glass which in the original French is called La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même(The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even). (1912 to 1923)

    The Large Glass has the form of a painting, the Farnsworth has the basic form of a house. In its transparency it negates painting the way the Farnsworth House negates a house. Duchamp said it was "incompleted," as is the Farnsworth. Both speak of making things, of construction. Will someone come to fix the broken glass? Will someone come to the Farnsworth House to erect walls, a roof and a door? Because both are transparent, they incorporate the surrounding world into what they are. Seen through either, the images of the outside world seem heightened and at the same time unreal.

    See the machines in the Large Glass? The symbol of the age, of modernity, as they were for the modern architects including Mies. The Farnsworth House is a machine in nature.

    Duchamp called the Large Glass the "love operation" of two machines. But the Bride machine in the upper panel never connects with the Bachelor machine in the lower panel. Ms. Farnsworth wanted more from Mies than just his architecture and ended up suing him in displeasure. As in the Large Glass, perhaps male and female had been connected in the past, but they are no longer. Both works represent dreams and fantasies, of female-ness. In both the idea is to look, but not to truly connect.

    The Bachelors in the Large Glass are too busy working to connect with the Bride, and for Mies- architectural work came first. Surrealist André Breton called the Large Glass "a mechanistic and cynical interpretation of the phenomenon of love." An apt phrase for the love nest/temple/weekend house of the lovelorn(?) Edith Farnsworth.

    In this 1950 construction photograph, Mies and a woman who must be Edith, face opposite directions and stand apart with space between them.

    Farnsworth House construction photo Mies Plano Illinois
    They connect even less than do

    Giacometti figures piazza
    Giacometti figures in a piazza.

    The Large Glass represents several men - the bachelors - not connecting with a woman but worshiping her, and thus she becomes a goddess. The Farnsworth is a classical goddess's temple in the woods. At the time the Farnsworth was built, men gathered not far away in a shooting club across the Fox River which flows along the house. They were earth-bound, like Duchamp's bachelors in the lower frame of the Large Glass. In Duchamp's upper panel, the Bride "floats," as does the "goddess" in Mies's temple, which he raised six feet off the ground.

    Both goddesses become geometry which represents purity and perfection but could also be a refuge for a male mind frightened at the mystery. Duchamp places those squares inside his Bride, geometric voids; Mies places his goddess inside the squares and rectangular voids. he even manifests her in the geometric house, with its geometric voids so that today, as an unoccupied house-museum we still feel the goddess's presence. She is there in the architecture itself. (Mies's Barcelona Pavilion features a statue of the goddess of dawn, like a siren she moors the sliding planes; but the Farnsworth House itself is more "useful" than the pavilion and stands in a more classical, restful pose and thus a statute of a female nude there would simply be redundant. More on this below.)

    Duchamp made the Large Glass for Katherine Dreier whom he later dismissed in the work Tu m'. Her role may have been to allow him to do his work. Their relationship is in some ways can be compared to that of Mies and Edith Farnsworth.

    If Duchamp in Coffee Mill (1911), Chocolate Grinder (1913) and Bicycle Wheel (1913) among other pieces strips domestic objects of their sentimental meaning; Mies does the same in the way he designed houses (and kitchens). Duchamp was more ironic, he was French.

    Both works draw on the viewer's unconscious, including fears and fantasies.

    But back to perspective machines. Duchamp said of the Large Glass, the vanishing point (in perspective) was 'de-multiplied'. Mies's works are also "perspective machines."

    Here's Fritz Neumeyer on Mies's Barcelona Pavilion as a viewing device, this applies to the Farnsworth House also:
    In the second phase of Mies' attempt to turn technology into art and to promote construction as architecture, the objective structure of the frame became an instrument of perception as well....

    Mies transformed the frame into a reflexive architectural element and an instrument for perception and for exploring the realm between subjectivity and objectivity. No longer did the abstract ideal of a viewed construction provide the compositional model; rather its opposite, the perceptual frame of the construction of the view, served this role....

    -Fritz Neumeyer in The Presence of Mies, Detlef Mertins, editor (Princeton 1994)

    Beatriz Colomina writes in 2G's issue on Mies' houses,
    "The house is no more than a device to see the world, a mechanism of viewing.... The world is at once turned into an outside an interrogated, intensified, transformed, by being framed.... The glass house doesn't simply expose the exterior world. It actively turns the world into a highly composed display.

    Moises Puente writes,
    The Mies house is an optical instrument born in temporary spaces, then unleashed in different landscapes around the world, turning the built and natural environments into exhibition sites, and redefining domestic space as the space of exhibition.

    Durer perspective optical gaze grid nudeI see this photo of Mies looking through a model of the house

    Mies van der Rohe model Farnsworth House MOMA
    and it does look like the Durer.
    The house is a gridded panopticon.

    Maybe Edith Farnsworth should have been scared

    King Kong Fay Wray scared
    like Fay Wray in King Kong,

    Fay Wray 1933
    looking like the sculpture Mies placed in his Barcelona Pavilion

    barcelona pavilion Mies George Kolbe statue Dawn

    In the Farnsworth House Mies placed no sculpture, the object on view is Edith, or what she represents. He made a frame for desire, manifest when Edith was there, even more interesting when she has picked up and left.

    The house/machine amplifies desire, when you're outside of it you want to be in, when you're in, you look out; but try to live that way in a constant disconnected cycle in a place of perfection you can not attain and before long you will feel yourself being erased. It never bends to your wishes; and speaks more of interior spirit than of body. Poor Edith got lost in there and ended up losing all perspective.

    The house, despite its glass, does not reflect who you are but works constantly to improve you. But any action in that house, any movement is about you, but it always connects you to a higher, more abstract level of cosmic action. After a while you feel that wherever you move in that box is controlled by strings from above. You, the human, are the linchpin that gives the universe a certain reality, without your observation in this heaven-on-earth box, the natural cycle would not occur. It's too much responsibility.

    Sit in the chaise lounge looking south at the river

    Farnsworth House interior chaise lounge
    and you become

    Tiber river god statue
    a modern ancient river god; not named Poseidon, Neptune or Tiber, but now named Fox. And Mies has conveniently provided the marble for you, abstracted into the flat plane of the floor, should one day you take shape.

    By the little - hardly usable but highly symbolic (like the rest of the "house") fireplace you are Vesta, goddess of the fire, both domestic and sacred, and Vulcan, god of fire, blacksmiths (metal) and craftsmanship. I would say he's necessary to honor in this place.

    Which takes us to Jupiter (the Greeks called him Zeus), the ruler of the Gods. He is the god of sky, lightening and thunder. You can't get away from him here. Edith had to eventually flee. Some architects might identify with said Zeus.

    Minerva - the goddess of wisdom and learning would live on the elevated travertine platform before you enter the house. That is the place, the stage that completely honors enlightenment.
    Minerva is also the goddess of the arts, sciences, and medicine. Dr. Edith Farnsworth embodied her. Farnsworth was a multi-talented physician specialized in diseases of the kidney (maybe she should have studied the spleen?), a violinist, she studied English literature, wrote poetry and essays and published translations of Italian poetry. Thus she knew these references.

    Edith Farnsworth even screened in a porch, against Mies's wishes. She began to claim that "enlightenment plinth" as her own, to make a less abstracted and more comfortable house for Minerva. It became a battle worthy of the gods.

    Stay in the Farnsworth House long enough and you see begin to see water nymphs and other woodland gods. That's the beauty of the pure transparent architecture, it allows interior and exterior life around you to unfold. Like a prism it takes what exists but is hard to experience, namely existence itself, and makes it visible, gives it meaning.

    But this is not the Pantheon of all the gods (Crown Hall might be.) For example, Ceres, the goddess of grain is left out here. Mies did not domesticate the landscape, but left it in its natural state. (Lord Palumbo who bought the house from Edith Farnsworth did the landscaping later.) Ceres protects women, motherhood and marriage. Not what this place is about.

    I am not sure if Venus has an address in Plano, Illinois. She is the major deity of love and beauty. I think she comes to earth elsewhere.

    Here Mies honors Diana. The goddess of the hunt, the forest and animals. In this modern abstracted-up-many-levels version of a temple of Diana, the trees are her bow, the house her arrow.

    And ultimately, it's a temple to Diana's twin brother Apollo. The god of light. As it's about connections it's appropriate to dedicate this to twins.

    Apollo being the son of Zeus must have pleased Mies when he "fathered" this embodiment of the son.

    Apollo too is the god of music. One hears his golden lyre, with its straight lines of strings, in the architecture. He is the god of healing, Mies's light-filled post World War II places are that - places for healing. Calm, geometric like the pyramids, places to rest. Oases in chaos, in cities, or here in the woods.

    Apollo taught man medicine, Dr. Farnsworth. He is the god of truth, who can not tell a lie. There is no architecture more honest than that of Mies. Structure is exposed, it is what it is.

    Statue of Apollo
    Ovid tells us in Metamorphoses (and what are Mies's buildings if not metamorphoses?) that Apollo had a first love in Daphne, but this is eros so Daphne, running away from him in the woods, prays to a river god to transform her into a laurel tree. Apollo still loves her and he embraces the tree as if it were her. Like the Farnsworth House and the sugar maple tree in front of it are engaged in eternal embrace.

    Indeed, visit the Farnsworth in autumn, when the leaves have dropped away, and you will see the columns, the trunks and branches of the house, are like the bare trees around it. It becomes one of them. Apollo, after pursuing Daphne, was always seen with a crown of laurel leaves around his head. The tree and Apollo almost become one.

    Each day Apollo's task was to harness his four horses to drive the sun across the sky. The Farnsworth House, this glass box of four walls - like Stonehenge perfectly placed on the sun's axis - makes Apollo and his labor manifest, it is a temple in which to observe the passage of the sun and to honor it, it makes the passage of the sun more remarkable.


    Is it coincidence that when the Farnsworth House was for sale, one who lusted after it was the founder of the software firm Oracle? The Oracle was Apollo's.


    Plato writes,
    Chora, the receptacle which is now called space; space is eternal and indestructible and provides a position for everything, and yet is apprehended without the senses by a sort of spurious reasoning and so is hard to believe unless we look at it in a kind of dream.

    One last art work by Marcel Duchamp, completes our circle for it is even more like the Durer. Duchamp's last major work Étant donnés can be viewed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To see it, peep through

    Marcel Duchamp last major art work Etant Donnes Philadelphia Museum of Art

    What could be more different than a Mies-designed wall and door?

    To see the "adult" view inside, google "Étant donnés - Duchamp." We began with the male gaze, we end with it.

    Inside the body are "vessels" such as blood vessels. The Farnsworth House is a vessel. Vessel can also mean water-born craft, like the Farnsworth House itself by the Fox River, which Henry-Russell Hitchcock described as a "beached yacht." Early modern English women were sometime called "vessels."


    The Farnsworth, like Duchamp's Large Glass, shines light on our interior lives.

    La Mariée
    Mies à nu...


    The Duchamp Large Glass analysis is indebted to Donald Kuspit's A Critical History of 20th Century Art.Source URL: http://ecleticsergio.blogspot.com/2009/09/mies-farnsworth-durer-and-duchamp.html
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