A Golden Anniversary for a Philip Johnson Museum

August 30, 2010

By Asad Syrkett

This October, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute’s Museum of Art (MWPAI) in Utica, New York, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Philip Johnson-designed home with an exhibition commemorating the work of the illustrious Modernist and Postmodernist architect.

The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute’s Museum of Art is located in Utica, New York.
The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute’s Museum of Art is located in Utica, New York.
Photo courtesy MWPAI
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Johnson’s design for the museum — a three-story, 60,000-square-foot box sheathed in dark granite — is credited for introducing Modern architecture to Utica, a quiet town in upstate New York. Located along the Erie Canal, Utica was at the center of American industry when the institute was founded in 1919.

The exhibition, Look for Beauty: Philip Johnson and Art Museum Design, explores Johnson’s role as an ambassador of Modern architecture. In addition to the MWPAI, the show will feature Johnson’s work for art institutions in Fort Worth (Amon Carter Museum, 1961) and Lincoln, Nebraska (Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, 1963). Photographs, plans, models, and furniture designs, among other artifacts, will be presented.

Johnson, who died in 2005 at the age of 98, has been in the headlines in recent months. An extensive archive of his work has surfaced and is now for sale; and the Beck House, a Dallas mansion Johnson designed in the ’60s, has been restored (by the Texas-based firm, Bodron+Fruit) and was featured this spring in The New York Times Magazine.

Mary Murray, MWPAI curator of Modern and contemporary art, says it’s a good time to evaluate Johnson’s oeuvre. “Since he’s been gone for five years,” she says, “we can examine his work outside of the magnetism of his dynamic personality.”

Look for Beauty will run from October 16 to February 27, 2011.

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