The Viennese architectural ideologue Adolf Loos (1870-1933) has long been a puzzle. His idiotic ukases about ornament being a crime always seemed to me to be psychiatric. That he would actually be referring to the glorious curlicues of Viennese Secession art/architecture (to my eye the greatest peak yet in the history of architecture) but not to Victorian second and third handed clichés just struck me as nuts, plain and simple. And there are enough aberrations in his tortured personal life to validate just such a snappy judgment. But the more I noodle his paradoxes, the more I began to see him as a typically defective example of the excesses of Modernism.
Take Voltaire, clearly the OPA of Modernism. His formula for doing away with the Catholic Church—ECRASEZ L’INFAME ! (Obliterate the Monster!) was the birth cry of Modernism. The Ancien Regime must be undone, piece by piece by piece, no matter how long and painful the process. Looking back, busy as we are burying such callow, inhumane tactics, we see it now for the adolescent like raging that it unhappily was. The only crime in Loos’s ideology is such loose thinking!
These thoughts came into suddenly sharp focus as I looked out the windows of the Number 18 Turin bus taking me from my pension next to the iconic Mole Antoniella (a criminally excessive complex of unnecessary ornament, if ever there was one!) to the World Architectural Congress at the Lingotto former FIAT factory, as free from unnecessary ornament as Albert Kahn’s Ford River Rouge complex outside Detroit.
I found unexpectedly great pleasure to my own surprise in the several generations of high rise apartments in their stunning diversity in heterogeneous detail like balconies, doors, window deployments, surface cladding. In short, I relished more and more the infinitely diverse signatures architects had devised across the centuries to please the eye while giving a building its idiosyncratic signature.
We must begin to see Modernism as a partly insane political program to obliterate all the “certainties” of the AncienRegime”. Life drawings, historical allusions in architecture, figurative sculpture, domestic gables—anything and everything, in short, that expressed the “accepted certainties” of politics, religion, and philosophy for the preceding centuries of enforced pre-egalitarian order.
A century later, we see the tacky underside of this revolutionary ideology: installations like the Turner contender of a woman’s disheveled, just fucked in bed, including her companion’s used condom. How despicable a mature rationalist like Voltaire would find such childish maunderings. It reminded me of a graffiti in the Academy of Arts/Berlin feature film (1969) about the silly shenanigans at their Freie Universitat in 1968, “Fucking is a weapon in the Class Struggle!”
Such ideological trash shows just how immature the underside of Modernism has become. When Bauhaus UNI “Freie Kunst” professors helped honor the retrieval of a grand Van de Velde villa from three decades of abuse as Weimar’s STASI HQ, a highly praised installation was 40,000 sheets of the typing paper the spies used to indict citizens for revolting against “socialist democracy” strewn willy nilly along the halls of the rooms which had been used to harass noncompliant citizens!
Adolf Loos’s silly opinions on decoration as a crime seems almost credibly believable by comparison!