by Hines, Thomas S. Getty Research Institute, January 2019. 208 p. 116 b/w ill. 9781606065815
Reviewed July 2019
The Museum of Modern Art is home to the country’s first museum department of Architecture and Design, with a venerable curatorial history beginning with Philip Johnson, department founder. Arthur Drexler became curator in the Architecture and Design department in 1951 and served as department director from 1956 until his retirement in 1986. Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art: The Arthur Drexler Years, 1951-1986 is not a biography of Drexler, but should be read instead as a biography of the department of Architecture and Design which developed significantly under the three and a half decades of his curatorship. The basis for this volume was through recorded interviews with Drexler, as well as interviews with Drexler’s friends, colleagues and family members.
The origin of the book in the early 1980s both reflects and signifies the important connections between curators, researchers, and architects during the formative years of the department and of American modernist architecture. Thomas S. Hines, professor emeritus of history and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, researched and authored the book. He was introduced to Drexler in the late 1970s by Philip Johnson while researching a book on Richard Neutra (Johnson, along with Henry-Russell Hitchcock, had included Neutra’s work in the 1932 epoch-making exhibit, Modern Architecture: International Exhibition). This introduction led to Drexler and Hines co-curating the 1982 Neutra retrospective at the MoMA: a collaboration which led to the idea of writing a history of MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, with a focus on the Drexler years. Hines saw the Drexler years as seminal to shaping the mission and identity of the department.
The book, arranged chronologically, follows the founding of MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design and Drexler’s pre-MoMA career through his term as curator and subsequently as director. Chapters present significant eras in Drexler’s curatorship from his early “apprenticeship” years and rise in the 1950s and 1960s to the contested years in the 1970s and 1980s. Importantly this progression parallels the changing landscape of modern architecture and its reception through modernism into postmodernism. This volume is richly illustrated with 166 black and white reproductions of photographs, buildings, exhibition installations and models printed on a low gloss paper. The printing quality of the volume is excellent, and the text is well-documented with a table of contents, extensive endnotes organized by chapter, and a general index.
With its specialized focus, Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art: The Arthur Drexler Years, 1951-1986 may struggle to fit in a generalized art and architecture collection. However, it would be an appropriate addition for museum libraries or academic art libraries that support curatorial or museum studies departments.