Gregory Ain, a midcentury champion of contemporary structure whose college students included Frank Gehry, is just about unknown outdoors Los Angeles right this moment. His left-leaning politics made him the object of many years-lengthy F.B.I. surveillance and McCarthy-period witch hunts that took their toll on his profession and legacy.
Even the destiny of his most essential fee — an exhibition home in the backyard of the Museum of Fashionable Artwork — is a thriller. That home is now the topic of the exhibition “This Future Has a Past” at the Middle for Structure in Greenwich Village.
J. Edgar Hoover as soon as known as Ain (1908-88) the most harmful architect in America. His physique of labor consists of many properties in and round Los Angeles, in addition to Neighborhood Properties Cooperative, an unrealized housing improvement from the 1940s that caught the consideration of F.B.I. informants who mentioned the challenge had ties to the Communist Social gathering.
Whereas beneath surveillance, in 1950, Ain designed a home for MoMA, throughout an period in the museum’s historical past when it commissioned exhibition homes designed to carry structure to a mass viewers. Philip Johnson, director of the museum’s division of structure and design at the time, enlisted Marcel Breuer for the first one in 1949.
“The Breuer-designed ‘House in the Museum Backyard’ was supposed to counter Levittown,” mentioned Barry Bergdoll, a MoMA curator, referring to the banal tract housing improvement constructed by William Levitt on Lengthy Island in the 1940s. “It was to point out that you could possibly have a great home — tasteful, trendy, in the suburbs — with out transferring to California.”
The Breuer home drew a document variety of guests, however not everybody was happy with the alternative of architect. “Johnson was criticized for asking Breuer to design the 1949 home,” mentioned Cynthia Davidson, the director of Anyspace, which produced the Ain exhibition. “He was perceived as elitist.”
She added, “The proven fact that the Rockefellers purchased the home and rebuilt it on their property virtually verifies that criticism.”
The Rockefeller household purchased the Breuer home to clear MoMA’s debt from the constructing’s price. To keep away from a repeat, the museum secured a sponsor for the 1950 home: Lady’s Dwelling Companion, a preferred journal at the time. And Johnson employed Ain to design it.
The two males could not have recognized one another, however each have been the topics of F.B.I. surveillance. (The F.B.I. opened a file on Johnson in 1941, in response to reviews of Johnson’s contacts with members of the Nazi Social gathering. At the time, he was finding out beneath the Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard.)
Like the Breuer-designed house that preceded Ain’s design, the “Japanese House” that adopted it was bought and relocated after being proven at MoMA. Each of these buildings nonetheless stand, however Ain’s home left behind few traces.
The home “has all the time been a thriller,” Mr. Bergdoll mentioned. “There’s little or no documentation about it.”
Happily, a mannequin of the home from 1950 was not too long ago uncovered in the basement of the mannequin maker Theodore Conrad’s residence in Jersey Metropolis. MoMA acquired the mannequin, which is now on view in “This Future Has a Previous.”
Christiane Robbins and Katherine Lambert, who organized the exhibition, mentioned they turned enthusiastic about Ain’s historical past after they heard an intriguing comment from the structure photographer Julius Shulman.
“He mentioned there was a narrative there that wasn’t getting advised,” Ms. Lambert recalled. “However he wouldn’t inform us what it was.”
Ms. Robbins had been dwelling in Avenel Properties, a cooperative housing challenge in Los Angeles designed by Ain. She mentioned she started to interview neighbors, lots of whom had lived there since the challenge’s inception in the late 1940s.
“Individuals would discuss Gregory Ain in a really fond approach, however would by no means go previous a sure level,” Ms. Robbins mentioned. “It was as if there was a wall that might come down.”
Partially due to his tarnished fame, Ain obtained few commissions after the MoMA exhibition home in 1950. It additionally didn’t assist that lots of Ain’s pals and purchasers misplaced work due to anti-communist hysteria. They included Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter of “Roman Vacation”; Frank Wilkinson, an activist who was incarcerated; and Ben Margolis, a protection lawyer for the Hollywood Ten, artists who have been punished for refusing to testify earlier than the House Un-American Actions Committee.
One other consumer was Harry Hay, a founding father of the early homosexual rights group the Mattachine Society. Ain’s Hay House (1939) was an early assembly place for the group, and was beneath F.B.I. surveillance for years.
Ms. Robbins and Ms. Lambert mentioned that in making an attempt to piece collectively the story of Ain’s MoMA fee, they initially discovered surprisingly little documentation about it in the museum’s archive. “It was seemingly both dismissed on the one hand as not essential, or it was being suppressed,” Ms. Robbins mentioned.
Then Ms. Robbins filed a Freedom of Data Act request to unearth Ain’s F.B.I. surveillance file, which offered insights into his each day life and included details about his alias, Fred Grant, and private particulars as particular as his weight.
Nonetheless, the destiny of Ain’s MoMA home stays a thriller. Even letters in the museum’s archive provide no conclusive decision.
“The archives go useless on two matters: They don’t inform you if somebody got here to the rescue of this home, and in the event that they didn’t, there’s no documentation that it was destroyed,” Mr. Bergdoll mentioned. “There may be correspondence with many individuals enthusiastic about shopping for the home, and then every thread fizzles out, and then the correspondence fizzles out altogether.”
Ms. Robbins mentioned that she finds it laborious to consider that the home was destroyed, given the museum’s funds constraints and Johnson’s want for monetary assist. She added, “To place all of that cash into the exhibition home solely to demolish it doesn’t make sense.”