Amusing to hear that modern architecture’s ranter-in-chief, Aaron Betsky, has been hired as dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin West – in Scottsdale, Ariz – where Frank Lloyd Wright spent his final years as an architectural provocateur. How fitting.
As a notorious ranter in my own right, I bow down to the decision by FLW’s heirs and assigns to put the school into the hands of an expert arm-flapper. His recent expression of anger in Architecture, mouthpiece of the AIA, at the New York Times for allowing criticism of modernism to appear on its oped pages must have been noticed at Taliesin. And certainly they were impressed by the Betsky scandal at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which led to his resignation one year ago. Betsky permitted an art installation in which a marksman shot a bullet down a hallway at the museum in order to navel-gaze at the bullet’s passing propinquity to actual works of art.
So, yes! Duck, indeed!
Wright’s career had its famous highs and lows. After decades designing signature houses that emphasized horizontality and ornament that embraced its terrain – the Prairie School – he suffered a brain fart that led to work that won him affection from modernists after decades of arms-length frigidity. Many modernists have tried to closet the traditional work of their early careers. Wright never did, and few recall the ambivalence among modernists that attended his inclusion at the 1932 MoMA exhibition that launched the International Style in America. His reputation has survived apostasy, tragedy and episodes of marital infidelity that would tarnish that of a lesser light.
Wright imbibed of the modernist Kool Aid relatively late in his career. That was before it became the new orthdoxy. He would be appalled today at what modernism has become. He would refuse to join the lickspittle brigades that carry on the cult. Betsky, no less than the faculty and staff he will oversee in Taliesin, does not realize that they are as far in spirit from Wright as it is possible to be. In short, he is the perfect choice to carry on its mission of helping young architects stick their heads in the sand as they continue modernism’s mission of aiming its calculated arrogance at the public.