Richard Neutra, Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, CA
From Design Observer:
Brenda Frazier, a 1930s debutante famous for being famous; Nefertiti, the first lady of second millennium B.C. monotheism; Peggy Shippen, second wife of an 18th-century American traitor; the 20th-century stage star Lillian Russell; and timeless Helen, with her ship-launching, tower-burning face. Five women joined by the simple fact that their beauty was bound to its representation, as described in a 1939 article in The New York Times. The article, written by the cultural correspondent Mildred Adams, was trying to account for the recent emergence of a time-bound sort of beauty. In the past, ideas of beauty shifted slowly, Adams wrote. It took a thousand years to transform the “meek and sloe-eyed beauty” of antiquity into the “disturbingly alive” women of the Renaissance. Generations more would come and go for particular, even peculiar, traits to be counted among beauty’s assets. Adams cited Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Beauty” on the point: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” By the middle decades of the 20th century, however, photography and film had so accelerated the fashion cycle that, as Adams put it, “beauty went into mass production.” In a taste culture increasingly mediated by the lens and carried along by fast-circulating images, beauty, Adams argued, was being eclipsed by a brighter, or perhaps just bigger, star: glamour.
This was not merely another change in taste. In ages past, great beauties were not so much made as simply represented by artistic media, whether words or paint or marble. Beauty pre-existed the attempt to document it. But in the modern world media do not discover but rather create their objects. Glamour is not seen through media — it is a consequence of media, media which record reflected light. The glamorous results attract our attention, drawing us away from our own lives and toward the lives of other people in other places. But the glamorous is not, according to Adams, beautiful. The lens “can select and adorn, but it cannot create. The celluloid film has never produced women as gorgeous as some of those beauties of the Renaissance.” For Adams, modern media are committed not to contemplation but rather to participation, to conjuring for viewers an ephemeral residence in another life, an unreal but realistic world that anyone conversant with current visual codes might temporarily occupy. Contemporary critics, she concluded, “go so far as to wonder openly whether beauty, in an age of mass production and mass ideals, would not smack of treason, being unattainable by the multitude.” In other words, in the age of mechanical reproduction, beauty has become glamour.
Read an excerpt from American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture, by Alice T. Friedman here