MoMA to Temporarily Obscure Philip Johnson’s Name
March 01, 2021
After a group of well-known artists, architects, and academics in January penned a letter to New York’s Museum of Modern Art asking it to remove the name of architect Philip Johnson from its galleries owing to his racist and white supremacist views, the institution has announced that it will cover his name while the show “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness” is up, Hyperallergic reports.
The renowned architect, who worked at and with the museum in some capacity for six decades, “not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in the field of architecture,” the letter writers noted, citing among other transgressions his failure to add work by any Black artist to MoMA’s collection, as well as his attempt to found a fascist party. An earlier version of the letter, featuring thirty signatories (all of whom signed the later missive), was also addressed to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, which promptly renamed a private residence Johnson built as a graduate thesis project.
Instead of the architect’s name, visitors to the show, which is on view through May 31, will be greeted by a collaborative artwork by the Black Reconstruction Collective, a group made up of the show’s ten participants—Emanuel Admassu, Germane Barnes, Sekou Cooke, J. Yolande Daniels, Felecia Davis, Mario Gooden, Walter Hood, Olalekan Jeyifous, V. Mitch McEwen, and Amanda Williams. Measuring ten by ten feet, the work will be made of denim and will bear the group’s “Manifesting Statement,” a collectively written text limning the hoped-for future of Black artists and architects and espousing a commitment to reconstructing Black America.
MoMA has also said that it will undertake a “rigorous research initiative to explore in full the allegations against Johnson and gather all available information.”
McEwen, an exhibitor and an assistant professor at the Princeton University School of Architecture, characterized the institution as denying its own history. “The fact is, when it comes to racist urban planning policies in the twentieth century and a deeply Eurocentric antiblack archive of American architecture, MoMA under white supremacist Philip Johnson did largely create the problem. It innovated white supremacy in architecture.”