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Flintstone Modernism: or The Crisis in Postwar American Culture

Flintstone Modernism: or The Crisis in Postwar American Culture

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Publication Date: February 9th, 2018
The MIT Press
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Ancient history, midcentury modernism, Cinemascope, humanism and monumentality, totalitarianism and democracy: transformations in American culture and architecture.

In Flintstone Modernism, Jeffrey Lieber investigates transformations in postwar American architecture and culture. He considers sword-and-sandal films of the 1950s and 1960s—including forgotten gems such as Land of the PharaohsHelen of Troy, and The Egyptian—and their protean, ideologically charged representations of totalitarianism and democracy. He connects Cinemascope and other widescreen technologies to the architectural “glass curtain wall,” arguing that both represented the all-encompassing eye of American Enterprise. Lieber reminds us that until recently midcentury modern American architecture was reviled by architectural historians but celebrated by design enthusiasts, just as sword-and-sandal epics are alternately hailed as cult classics or derided as camp.

Lieber's argument is absorbing, exuberant, and comprehensive. Following Hannah Arendt, who looked for analogies in the classical past in order to understand midcentury's cultural crisis, Lieber terms the postwar reckoning of ancient civilizations and modern ideals “Flintstone modernism.” In new assessments of the major architects of the period, Lieber uncovers the cultural and political fantasies that animated or impinged on their work, offering surprising insights into Gordon Bunshaft's commonsense classicism; Eero Saarinen's architectural narratives of ersatz empire and Marcel Breuer's mania for Egyptian monoliths; and Edward Durell Stone's romantic “flights of fancy” and Philip Johnson's wicked brand of cynical cultural and sociopolitical critique.

Deftly moving among architecture, film, philosophy, and politics, Lieber illuminates the artifice that resulted from the conjunction of high style and mass-cultural values in postwar America.

About the Author

Jeffrey Lieber is a historian of art and architecture. He has taught at Harvard University, the New School, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. His essays on Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, and Hannah Arendt have appeared in such journals as Harvard Design MagazineDesign and Culture, and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He also writes about film and regularly curates film series.

Praise for Flintstone Modernism: or The Crisis in Postwar American Culture

Flintstone Modernism is a highly original, thought-provoking addition to the scholarship on postwar American architecture. It is valuable for considering material across many related fields, especially in light of recent thinking about queer culture. Lieber's idiosyncratic account gives others permission to write about the postwar era in a similarly free and passionate manner.—Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians