Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson focuses on a pivotal, yet little-known, development in the evolution of American design: the collaboration between Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Philip Johnson, the museum’s first curator of architecture, as ambassadors of modernism in North America.
Barr and Johnson’s agenda was inspired by the Bauhaus school at Dessau—its merging of architecture with fine and applied arts, and its invention of a radical new aesthetic that was rational, functional, machine-made, and ahistorical. The Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1929 in New York City, promulgated this Bauhaus vision in its multi-departmental structure as well as in its exhibition program. Serving as Barr and Johnson’s home base, MoMA provided a venue for many émigré Bauhaus architects and artists fleeing Nazi Germany, and found sponsors for others through their networks. Barr and Johnson even carried the Bauhaus torch into their own residences, where their experiments with modernism anticipated and informed such influential MoMA exhibitions as Modern Architecture (1932) Machine Art (1934), Bauhaus, 1919–1928 (1938), and the Useful Objects series (1938–49).
Partners in Design traces the origins of America’s Bauhaus-derived modern design from Dessau to Barr and Johnson’s radical experiments in their home “laboratories” in New York City to MoMA’s influential exhibitions—which helped spread the gospel of modern architecture and design across North America.