THE MIES VAN DER ROHE ARCHIVE (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART)

In the early 1940s, Chicago-based physician Dr. Edith Farnsworth contacted the Museum of Modern Art in New York for their assistance in selecting an architect for the design of a rural weekend house. Philip Johnson, Head of the Department of Architecture, suggested that she contact the German émigré architect Mies van der Rohe.

When Dr. Farnsworth took residence in her glass house in 1951, she would wake in the mornings to see skirts fluttering behind trees and hear the shutters of cameras snap. She frequently found grease from fingers, noses, and faces that had been pressed to the glass, as uninvited guests became more and more daring. Photographs of the house were published in House Beautiful under the title “Threat to the Next America,” in an essay by editor Elizabeth Gordon in which she warns of the fascist underpinnings of glass houses. Meanwhile, the same photographs published in this magazine were used in the Museum of Modern Art for exhibitions on Mies van der Rohe that built his legacy as one of the most important modern architects in the world.

This series, The Mies van der Rohe Archive (Museum of Modern Art), returns to these contentious archival photographs as raw material. Printed on glossy photographic paper and protected in glassine and thin plastic shells, these original photographs were photographed again, using the simple and surreptitious methods of a handheld camera, the only method approved by MoMA archivists. This method replicates the real experience of photographing the glass house, in which the photographer absurdly tries to disguise herself, to take a photograph without being noticed or being reflected in the glass walls. It is impossible. The photographer of a glass house is always revealed: camera, fingers, face and surrounding archives office mapped over the figure of the house. The resulting photographs become a new and strange record of the modern house in which photographer, archivist and house are inextricable.

Further underscoring the series’ connection to the MoMA archive, each photograph is titled according to its label and identifying information This will be either the MMA index number—as in the case of most Hedrich-Blessing photographs—or the photographer’s name, or the (erroneous) location and date.