Looking Glass

Aram Moshayedi on Sarah Morris’s Points on a Line

Sarah Morris, Points on a Line, 2010, stills from a color film in HD, 35 minutes 48 seconds.

POINTS ON A LINE, the latest film by artist Sarah Morris, takes as its central focus two architectural subjects on the verge of critical exhaustion. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, and Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, have, both together and separately, been exposed to such thoroughly repetitive visual and textual analysis that it is surprising to find the two icons called on to be reconsidered anew. Morris’s cinematic portrait of these architectural landmarks, designed and constructed roughly within the same period of time by the German mentor and his American disciple, moves well beyond the historical dispute over originality and influence, as well as the fascination with glass as a material—reflective and transparent—caught in the folds of perception. Instead, Points on a Line is filmed with such visual precision and edited with such rhythm that the merger between history and mythology becomes evident as a defining characteristic of architecture.

Points on a Line begins in Connecticut at the Glass House, ends in Illinois at the Farnsworth House, and makes a series of important detours along the way. Mies’s and Johnson’s respective personas and architectural practices intersect in New York—the film’s midpoint—at the Seagram Building, Mies’s whiskey-colored skyscraper where Johnson was enlisted to design the Four Seasons restaurant and bar. Scenes of power lunches and the service industry that keeps business running as usual comingle in Johnson’s interior designs. The images provide a glimpse into how the Four Seasons at the Seagram Building has been used as a prominent site for the cultivation of corporate lifestyles since the years when Johnson was its most frequent visitor. The interpersonal relationship between Mies and Johnson is implied here; their lingering presence is merely suggested as Morris’s camera opts, instead, to fixate on the flow of the building’s contemporary life.

Similarly, the specific architectural details of the Farnsworth House and the Glass House are cast in relatively minor roles: Daily maintenance and the surrounding environs at both locations occupy much of Morris’s attention. While the film’s emphasis on nature might help to underscore Mies’s and Johnson’s differing opinions on the relationship of architecture to landscape, Points on a Line ultimately upends the possibility of any singular understanding of either structure or architect.

Sarah Morris’s Points on a Line debuted in Chicago at the Arts Club on September 16 and will have its first New York screening on October 6 at Sotheby’s, as part of the Modern Views Project to benefit Farnsworth House and the Glass House.