Modernism’s Jewish Connection

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Modernism's Jewish Connection
Eichler model home advertisement, c. 1960

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Modernism's Jewish Connection
Eichler model home advertisement, c. 1960

Are Jews particularly likely to embrace new forms of artistic expression? The ongoing coverage of collections looted by the Nazis strongly suggests that, when it came to avant-garde painting, Jewish collectors were essential. So too for architecture: Can it be coincidence that Mies’s greatest clients, the Tugendahts, and le Corbusier’s, the Savoyes, were Jewish?

In America, the Kaufmann family commissioned houses by both Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, himself a Jewish emigre. Other Jewish architects of the time included Marcel Breuer, Rudolf Schindler, and of course Louis Kahn, born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky. Those who couldn’t afford houses by the greats might have bought furniture by George Nelson, known for his marshmallow sofa, or appliances by prolific industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. They would have been induced to embrace the modernist aesthetic directly by Jewish developers, including Joseph Eichler in California and William Levitt in New York, and indirectly through the work of two great architectural photographers: Julius Shulman on the west coast and Ezra Stoller on the east. Both photographers were Jewish, as were many of the editors who showed their work.

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