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walk over your head? In a house where you can’t breathe and the sun never comes in? “ -- Josephine Baker in the film Princess Tam Tam, 1935 In 1995, Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie in Paris presented an exhibition of new work by Dennis Adams, an artist known for his interest in public art and spatial interventions. For the show, Adams created “House for Josephine Baker.” The piece, which has since also been shown in several museum exhibitions in Europe, involves a detailed maquette of a black-and-white striped modernist house submerged in a large tank of water. The tank is firmly anchored on a steel armature with legs that lift the maquette up to the viewer’s eye level. The roof of the maquette has been removed allowing more complete visual access to the house’s second-story interior. The dominant characteristic of the interior is a large indoor swimming pool. The dimensions of the holding tank are directly related to that of the pool. It forms a 1 to 6.33 ratio. The water level of the holding tank is high enough to submerge much of the house while being low enough to avoid completely flooding it. The surrounding pool deck has been enlarged by the removal of room partitions and multiple levels on the second story. The exposed floors of the maquette are illuminated creating the appearance of glowing, radiant surfaces floating in the water. It is of significance that Adams’ exhibition took place in Paris. The “House for Josephine Baker” is an installation grounded in an appropriation of another, architectural maquette. The referenced maquette, created 67 years earlier, was a proposed house by the
5 meters high. The pool. As in the case of Loos’ other houses of this period. involved a dramatic exterior made of black-and-white marble organized in a repeating. adjoining . The cylindrical tower is cantilevered out at an angle to the second story as well as the first floor. mirroring the space of the street below.” Loos’ design for the house. the city that knew and loved her as “La Bakaire. the exterior reveals little of the house’s interior spatial structure. The house involved a square spatial plan accented by a tower and a flat roof. The windows are used sparingly and emerge as small openings within the dramatic exterior surface. The first floor is white and clean.renowned architect Adolf Loos for the American cabaret star Josephine Baker. The pool is pierced by thick layers of glass which allow viewing into the water through a series of low. and two building section drawings currently held in the Loos Archive. In 1928. The combination of this volumetric interplay of forms along with the dramatic pattern created an exterior which is slightly off balance. The first floor of the house was intended to hold a large hall and entrance lobby whose walls are 7.” The dominant feature of the second floor is a large. The cylindrical tower. The upper floors project out onto the sidewalk and created distinct volumes floating on the white pedestaled footing below. is illuminated from above through incisions into the skylight. Albertina Museum in Vienna. which consists of a detailed maquette. Loos planned a complex series of interior spaces for Baker. 4 x 10 x 2 meter swimming pool. supported by massive pillars emanating from the basement. four floor plans. holds a circular iron staircase which connects the first floor entrance rooms to the second floor spaces of “entertainment. visible so prominantly from the exterior. Loos designed a house for Baker to be situated in Paris. striped pattern. The building’s exterior is divided between the first floor and the two merged upper floors.
at the age of nineteen she had moved to Paris and joined La Revue Negre at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. also has space for two bedrooms. costumes and her interpretation of a new jazz-age dance called the Charleston.corridors measuring about 2. which so prominantly displays the swimming pool.2 x 1.” i Loos was born in Brno. Adolf Loos was fifty-eight years old. Between 1922 and 1927 he divided his time between Paris and the French Riviera. although he continued to make frequent trips to France and Czechoslovakia. the central focus of design. and expanded allowing for a clearer view of the pool. In Dennis Adams’ 1995 interpretation of Loos’ house the tight interior corridors are opened up. Czechoslovakia. The second floor of the house. In 1928. Three years earlier. He died in 1933 a mere five-years later. a dining room and a sitting room. “he died of a chronic stomach problem. It was the first all black show ever brought from the United States to Europe.” an infamous dance which she would continue to perform off and on for the next 20 years. Adams appropriation of the plan is further referenced in the exterior pool which quotes and enlarges the dimensions of the interior pool. He returned to Vienna in 1928. and spent much of his life in Vienna with extended stays in the United States and France. At the .3 meters. During the 1926-27 season she had began performing “Banana Dance. Baker was an overnight sensation with her provocative appearance. the result of health problems from a recurring venereal disease or depending upon which text you read. In 1927 he completed the significant modernist House for Tristan Tzara at 15 Avenue Junot in the Montmartre section of Paris. Josephine Baker was twenty-two years old in 1928.
an imigrant from Romania who had come to Paris in 1920 via Zurich where he was one of the founders of the Dada movement. Tzara was active in the French Resistance. and editor of Dada and Surrealist publications. whose given name is Sami Rosenstock. they were photographed there by Man Ray. . The following year. In 1926 he became head of the Nazi party. was 31 years old. He thought of himself as a kind of Euro-Savage. He remained an active member until 1934. where short lived . but the influence of black culture on Tzara’s “poemes negres” was more enduring. forms of expressions presumed to be typical of black cultures. . .” ii Although the fascination with all things African during the early part of the 20th century is often referenced and well documented. it nonethless provides a significant backdrop to the European cultural production of the 1920s.time Tzara. It is also of significance that by the late 1920s Adolf Hitler had already gained a foothold in Austria. In 1930. most notably in his performances with Hugo Ball. there was a socialist riot in Vienna in reaction to the rise of Nazism.. These racist displays . Tzara himself was a poet . playwright. During the course of the riot. the Hall of . many of his fellow artists and writers visited 15 Avenue Junot. The simultaneous attraction and repulsion as well as erotic charge of the “savage” was never far below the surface and certainly appears to have been in the forefront of Loos’ thoughts while designing the black-and-white striped house. . purely rhythmic. . According to James Clifford “Tzara beat on drums and intoned invented “negro” chants. During World War II. While he was a member of the Surrealist group. simulating a return to wild. Two years after the completion of the Loos house Tzara became an official member of the Surrealist group. He was also an avid collector of African art. after which he joined the Communist Party.
. that “The capital was flooded with leaflets denouncing me as the “black devil.” French underground. Others have written that the proposal was completely unsolicited by Baker and that she in fact didn’t even know that Loos was an architect. after her South American tour.” iii Baker’s visit finally resulted in special debate held in the Austrian parlimanent which addressed the impact of her visit on the status of public morality. Apparently this rather absurd act was a bragging point for the aging Loos. In 1928. was not a complete stranger to other key proponents of modernist architecture. By chance. As he was turning in that night. it was made clear that I was the embodiment of moral decadence. taught Loos to dance the Charleston. (In some books the ship is identified at the Julius . at some point. in one of her autobiographies. Some texts have suggested that the design for the house was in fact commisioned and later rejected by Baker herself. She recalled. It has been suggested by some historians that they knew each other socially between 1926 and 1928 v iv When Hitler finally entered Paris in June 1940. Baker fled to Morocco where she began work for the It has also been rumored that Baker. Either way. Baker was certainly a popular muse to many artists and writers living in Paris. for her part.Justice was set ablaze. Josephine Baker spent three weeks in Vienna as part of her European tour. in 1929. Baker’s relationship to Adolf Loos is unclear. Ten years later.” . Hitler “commandeered the elegent Weinzinger Hotel (in Vienna) and chose the suite of the hotel owner for himself. Hitler looked above the bed to see a photograph of Josephine staring down at him. Baker. she met Le Corbusier who was returning from a South American lecture tour. Her visit there caused a tremendous commotion within this already volatile city. while on the ship Lutetia sailing from Rio to Europe.
Baker and Corbusier’s paths would cross again at the end of their lives.Caesar. in a rather paternizing tone that “In a stupid variety show. for his part.) She performed on the ocean liner with Corbu seated in the front row. vii Baker did not acknowledge the affair with Le Corbusier in viii her autobiography. Corbusier is seated next to Baker and is also dressed as a clown. She arranged for Baker and her . that on the occasion of such masquerades he prefered one of two disguises: the clown or the convict. and limpid. Rather. Baker. simple.” ix Le Corbusier.” x Strangely. Apparently he was moved to “tears” by her singing. . with traffic circulating on ramps overhead. In fact. but recalled instead that “He enjoyed hearing me hum my favorite songs as we walked the deck together and I was fascinated by his talk about cities of the future carpeted in green for the pedestrians. if you look at the snapshot taken at the party carefully you will notice that the man in black-face is not in fact Corbusier. . He asked her to sit for him for a series of drawings executed in his cabin. This sitting apparently lead to an onboard romance which culminated in the two attending the ship’s masquerade party. She glides over the roughness of life. vi The architect was a great fan of American jazz and was fascinated and enamored with Baker. She is an admirable artist when she sings and out of this world when she dances. He himself noted. In 1969 a homeless and penniless Baker xi ended up assisted by Princess Grace of Monaco. Josephine Baker sang “Baby” with such an intense and dramatic sensibility that I was moved to tears . known around the world. another American ex-pat living under very different circumstances. She has a good little heart. wrote. It has been noted that Josephine was dressed as a white-faced clown while Corbu sported black face topped with his trademark round-lens glasses. is a small child pure.
while Baker is buried only a few miles away in the cemetary at Monaco. which Josephine called Maryvonne. What is not clear at this point. a beautiful seaside village situated next to Monte Carlo.” She had grown up in desperate poverty in St. Le Corbusier is buried in Roquebrune. in Roquebrune. . a woman’s fancy hairdo and a view of the Sunday parade. however.children to live in a house. In her autobiography. in August of 1965. Louis. gaily colored scraps of paper which blended into a crazy quilt of overlapping images. once again. almost romantically. co-writen by Jo Bouillon (her fourth husband). Looking back. she described. How I used to love to look at them! What on close inspection turned out to be a seed advertisement. Jean Prouve. Daddy had lined the walls with pages torn from newspapers and magazines. To keep out the cold. I thought our walls . “It wasn’t much more than a heap of dilapidated boards connected by an uneven floor. Le Corbusier swam to his death from his seaside cabanon in the same village of Roquebrune. at a distance became a fabulous animal. what are we to think of Loos’ original design and Adams’ contemporary appropriation? Are we to assume that Baker was the intended client for this Loos project? Baker had in fact always had a strong interest in “houses. is the location of the project – Vesinet or the Dordogne. . at the “House for Josephine Baker” . Baker’s children were even enrolled in school with Princess Stephanie. “In 1931/1932 Jean Prouve made a design for a bathroom and staircase for Josephine Baker. Four years earlier. her childhood home.” xii According to Prouve’s brother Henri. Baker would also have contact with another well-known French architect and designer. In the early 1930s. the project was completed with the graphic artist Paul Colin acting as an intermediary between Baker and Prouve.
Perhaps Loos had visited this apartment while living in Paris and socializing with Baker. Later in her life. not Esther Williams or one of her aqua cabaret performers. it seems a strange fit for Baker. They were far removed in style and scale from the spare. They were strong. spectacular estates were architecturally rather traditional. coincidentally. protected from a hostile world. For her “powerful and famous people were the kings and queens of her childhood fairy tales.” xiv Both Loos and Adams place a great deal of attention to the house’s second-story pool. after all. It has also been noted in one of her biographies that she . Both of these large. in one way or another. It is the central focus of Loos’ design and the principal element of its contemporary interpretation by Adams. for the rest of her life. then there seems to be little possibility for her acceptance of Loos’ design. apartments in Paris and two spectacular chateaux’s in the country: The thirty -room Le Beaux-Chene estate in the village of Le Vesinet outside of Paris (occupied by Baker from 1929-1947) and the fifty room Les Milandes compound in the Dordognes Region (in which she lived off and on from 1938 to 1969. In some ways. she had an indoor pool constructed by her lover Marcel Ballot.were so beautiful that I was sure my father must be a famous artist. in 1926 when she was living at 77 Champs-Elysees. They lived in fortified castles. If we look at these houses as a template for Baker’s aesthetic sense. geometric avant-garde architecture of the 1920s. And yet.” xiii It is ironic in retrospect that this early chance contact with the After moving to France in 1925 she would live in numerous “press” would follow her. from the turn-of-the-century Le Beaux Chene to the fifteenth-century grandeur of Les Milandes. six years before her death). Baker constructed a heart-shaped pool at Les Milandes. who was.
a model. in fact. a place to sink roots. a maquette. “ xvii Yet.” “Josephine had a deep need for family and a need for a home. Gerrit Rietvelt. In these photographs of Mies van der Rohe. xv in the fish pond at Les Perhaps what is misleading in reading this house design is the assumption that this would be Baker’s “home. Her position as an ex-pat also contributed to this sense of displacement. Walter Gropius and others. In fact. she led a nomadic existence that consisted of constant public performances and travel. She yearned for a place that she could settle down in and ultimately raise her “Rainbow Tribe” of 12 adopted children and a managerie of dozens of animals.” The issue of domesticity was always problematic for Baker. It is intended to be what it is. felt lonely even when surrounded by many people. . including the fictional architect of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. she never felt a sense of being at peace or “at home. even with four marriages. His size dominates that of his subject allowing him ultimate visual access and thus control of his creation.“paddled nude amidst her water lilies” Milandes.” xvi Throughout her life. “Houses represented security to her in a way that men never could. It is intended to be the architect’s muse in the way that the artist’s model has traditionally been. She. Loos’ house was never meant to be a home and it was probably never meant to be built at all. there is a sense of the modernist architect as Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. soothed to a certain extent when she became a French citizen. the way that one can most clearly understand the design is to think of the know famous photographs of architects looking down and into the windows of their maquettes.
Her skin is referenced in the exterior’s black and white surface. Josephine.This sense of the house as a maquette is further developed in Adams’ interpretation of the piece. 185. by removing the roof and the partitians between the corridors he shifts the maquette from a blueprint for a construction project to the subject of the artist/architects musings. Further. p. but she is not there. 1976. 1990. Anna Novakov teaches art history at St. By placing the maquette in a tank of water he is able to remove any “use value” that the model may have had. to fantasize about this imaginary space and her presence in it. .” xviii Her body is referenced in the grand indoor pool. After all. 74. 1995. the here and now. iv Lynn Haney. 149. Mary’s College of California. p. It is meant to incite a story which mirrors their own narrative desires. i Kim Tanzer. assumed to be a male surrogate for the architect. 87. the one thing that she never let anyone see. to an imaginary place of their own construction. “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone. London: Robson Books. We become Gulliver in the land of Josephine. Her absence allows the viewer. We look for what so many wanted during her lifetime: her. Something that she worked tirelessly to erradicate in her own life. The University of Texas at Austin. “Baker’s Loos and Loos’s Loss: Architecting the Body.. 1995. P. Berkeley: University Art Museum. p. Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art. ii Sidra Stich. A Journal for Architecture in America. The maquette is a vehicle meant to transport the viewer from the physical pbejct. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. New York: Harper and Row. . iii Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon. Her absence is in fact the point.” Center 9: Regarding the Proper. Josephine Baker is nowhere to be seen. .
1. 150-151. ix x Charles Jenks. xvi Lynn Haney.v Kim Tanzer. Josephine. Josephine. 108. Volume 2. 78. p. A Journal for Architecture in America. p. viii Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon. 1995. 210. 262. p. 1995. xii Peter Sulzer. 1995. 1973. 1995. London: Robson Books. 1976. 156. New York. Lynn Haney. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. 1973. 1934-1944. 80. New York: Harper and Row. p. xi Charles Jenks. 128. xvii Lynn Haney. 173. New York: Harper and Row. p. Josephine. New York: Harper and Row. Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture. When the Cathedrals were White. xv Lynn Haney. London: Robson Books. Jean Prouve: Oeuvre Complete/ Complete Works. xiii xiv Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon. . written in 1935 and 1945. p. 1976. “Baker’s Loos and Loos’s Loss: Architecting the Body.” Center 9: Regarding the Proper.. p. Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. vi Lynn Haney. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. 35. Josephine. 1995. 102. p. 108. 1976. New York: Harper and Row. P. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. p. a Journey to the Country of Timid People. 1995. p. 1973.. xviii Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. The University of Texas at Austin. vii Charles Jenks. 2000. Jencks is quoting from Le Corbusier. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. London: Robson Books. p. Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture. London: Robson Books. p. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1976. Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture. London: Robson Books. Berlin: Birkhauser. 1947.
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