Philip Johnson, Nazi Sympathizer and Synagogue Architect

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was a major force in 20th-century American architecture, playing a pivotal role in the evolution of both the modern and postmodern styles and designing such celebrated Manhattan landmarks as Lincoln Center and the Seagram Building. While his Nazi sympathies during the 1930s have never been a secret, a new biography by Mark Lamster shows they were deeper and longer-lasting than previously assumed. Armin Rosen writes in his review:

Johnson had been enthralled by a Hitler Youth rally he attended in Potsdam in 1933 and wrote an article that same year lauding the Third Reich’s architecture; later he would witness two of the notorious annual Nuremberg rallies, in 1937 and 1938. Johnson [became] an adviser to Father Coughlin in the mid-1930s—the future architect designed the speaking platform, a menacingly stark white wall with disturbing similarities to his later building designs, that the pro-Nazi demagogue used during a September 1936 address in Chicago that drew 80,000 spectators. Johnson [also] consorted with German officials in Washington and New York. . . . [Lamster] marshals abundant evidence that Johnson was also an anti-Semite, at least for a time. . . .

Johnson . . . only broke with fascism in late 1940 when support for the Nazis became personally and professionally untenable. In a particularly lame bit of attempted t’shuvah, Johnson donated the princely sum of $100 to United Jewish Philanthropies in the fall of 1941. . . .

And then, a funny thing happened: the war ended and Johnson became kosher, even for Jews. Johnson quickly convinced everyone that he had changed. Robert Finkle, a young Jewish architecture student, began a long stint as Johnson’s protégé and lover in the mid-50s. Johnson designed the Kneses Tifereth Israel synagogue in Port Chester, New York. . . . In 1956, Johnson began designing the Norel Soreq nuclear research facility in the Israeli town of Reḥovot, which opened in 1960.

But is there any connection between Johnson’s early politics and his work itself? Rosen writes:

[It’s] hard to ignore the authoritarian characteristics of some of his more celebrated work. Many of Johnson’s greatest structures are both gigantic and strikingly blank, and they work because they hold the Olympian vision of the architect against a viewer’s relative smallness. Johnson’s aesthetic values have a deeply sinister glint to them in light of his personal history; worse still, it’s hard or maybe impossible to disentangle those values from the qualities that make his buildings so distinctive.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Architecture, Arts & Culture, Nazism

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey