But the structure of Treacherous Transparencies’ if/then critique continually relies on an argumentative bait-and-switch, whereby Herzog criticizes the Farnsworth House for not adequately fulfilling the prosaic functional obligations of a home, derogatorily labeling it an aloof art object, only to paradoxically find more favorable alternatives in a collection of equally aloof art objects. While the utility of the Farnsworth House as a perpetual straw figure relies on its ambivalent qualities as an object, Herzog ultimately refuses to afford the house (as an object) the same courtesy he gives to Duchamp’s transparent canvas or Graham’s glass models. This is to say that while the strategically inconvenient relationship between Duchamp’s Large Glass and the context in which it sits can be understood as a critical stance against the institutional conventions of the gallery, Herzog never entertains the possibility that Mies’s house might have the right to be every bit as inconvenient to live with as a glass canvas.
As Irene Sunwoo has observed, when Sotheby’s published their catalog advertising the sale of the Farnsworth House, the investment was framed less as real estate than as a fine art object, reminding us that for its short life as a residence, the Farnsworth House has lived a far longer afterlife as a rarefied work of art.2 And while Edith may never have felt entirely comfortable in her Plano fish tank, the house itself seems entirely comfortable circulating through the collections of twentieth-century art connoisseurs alongside the works of Duchamp, Graham, and Richter. While offering moments of real insight, ultimately, Herzog and de Meuron’s Treacherous Transparencies underscores the simple fact that no matter how far an architectural object distances itself from the prosaic economies of conventional use, the specter of convenience proves to be an imminently difficult ghost to shake, damning either the Farnsworth House or a book (ostensibly) about the Farnsworth House, depending on the reader’s own proclivities.
The Farnsworth House: 1945–1951, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Sale no. 7957), appended to Important 20th Century Design, 248 (New York: Sotheby’s), December 12, 2003.
Irene Sunwoo, “Taming the Farnsworth House,” Thresholds, no. 31 (2006).
How to Cite this Article: Roth, Curtis. Review of Treacherous Transparencies: Thoughts and Observations Triggered by a Visit to the Farnsworth House, by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. JAE Online. May 17, 2017. https://jaeonline.org/issue-article/treacherous-transparencies-thoughts-and-observations-triggered-visit-farnsworth/.