Oscar Niemeyer / Roberto Burle Marx. Tremaine House & Painting toward architecture (2017)
artdesigncafé - design | Tremaine Collection / Miller Co. art & design | 31 December 2017
Left: Oscar Neimeyer. Beach House for Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, project, Santa Barbara / (Montecito), California, (1948); Right: Roberto Burle Marx. Design for a garden, (1948). Both in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In summer 2017, a gouache work, Design for a garden (1948) by Roberto Burle Marx regarding the unbuilt Tremaine House was presented in the DB Kunstalle show Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist. This show originated from the Jewish Museum in New York, which displayed the Burle Marx’s work in 2016, and also an associated maquette (above) and a drawing by architect Oscar Niemeyer were part of the overall project proposal for Tremaine House. This project was among the wide range of Painting toward architecture-era initiatives organized by Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine. 
While the Niemeyer works were loaned by the Museum of Modern Art to the Jewish Museum, part of approximately 10 design works donated by the Tremaines in c. 1966, the loaned Burle Marx work in both shows is attributed to “Burle Marx & Cia., Ltda., Rio de Janeiro”, even though Design for a garden (1948) by Burle Marx is part of that Tremaine donation to MoMA.  This puts forth the first Modern mystery of the unbuilt Tremaine House: definitively, how many Burle Marx works in fact were made related to this project?
In 2010, MoMA curator Barry Bergdoll published an article in Docomomo, an essential read for anyone interested in the Tremaine House project and Painting toward architecture. In it, he describes what could arguably be the aesthetic apex of the overall Painting toward architecture-era initiatives, at least related to architecture (1947-52; see this article’s introduction, page 1, linked below.)
"From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer: Savoye House – Tremaine House, 1949" 
Bergdoll writes, "The exhibition ’From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer, 1929-1949’ [at MoMA, 15 February - 17 April 1949, which included the Tremaine House plans, the Burle Marx gouache work, and Niemeyer’s drawings] was part of a larger assessment of the fate of the international style and of the interaction between abstraction in painting and sculpture and in architectural design, a theme laid out by Alfred Barr and Hitchcock in the 1948 book Painting Toward Architecture. Niemeyer’s unbuilt [Tremaine] House, designed with Roberto Burle Marx, was upheld as a synthesis not only of the arts but of the movements coalescing towards a postwar abstract consensus." 
Bergdoll adds later, "In the MoMA exhibition the focus and denouement would be a single work of architecture, a house commissioned by the [Miller] company’s president Burton Tremaine and his wife Emily Hall Tremaine, curator of the corporate collection. Ultimately to remain a project and today largely forgotten… was undertaken significantly, as a collaboration between Oscar Niemeyer and Roberto Burle Marx, in a direct invitation to import to North America the synthesis of the arts that had famously emerged in Brazil a decade earlier." 
After, referring to Miró, Arp, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and one of his artworks, Bergdoll concludes his article, referring to the February 1949 press release for the exhibition: "’The Tremaine House… represents today’s final architectural synthesis of [these] two important twentieth century stylistic trends: the formalistic geometry of Le Corbusier, and the freeform anthropomorphic shapes of Arp.’ At MoMA the synthesis of the arts went beyond a new collaborative paradigm to the threshold in the epoch development of modern architecture as the project of the age." 
What’s interesting here initially is that the press release does not mention the travelling Painting toward architecture show, which would have added just maybe 10 words to the text. By February 1949, Painting toward architecture was opening its 13th venue, the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, and had just been on view three months earlier at its 10th venue, Knoedler Art Galleries in New York. In fact, Roberto Burle Marx’s Design for a garden (1948) is on the Knoedler’s brochure / exhibition checklist. 
However, one assumes that anyone interested in the MoMA show had been exposed to at least the media coverage in the arts press and major newspapers resulting from the travelling exhibition. Perhaps the lack of a mention on the press release was unintended in the fast-paced work of exhibition organization and press relations. Also perhaps, in friendly competition, the specific narrowing to Hitchcock and Barr and the Painting toward architecture book was specifically intended.
Regarding the MoMA show, two small newspaper articles about the MoMA show were found, published in the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times.  Also, two magazine articles, usually referred to regarding Tremaine House, were published in Arts and Architecture and Interior Design. Published in March 1949, the first article repeats the assessment put forth in the MoMA press release about the design synthesizing the two 20th century stylistic trends, and fills the layout with illustrations showing this.  In Interiors, they include photos of the site on the Pacific Ocean and illustrations across a 10-page spread. Interestingly, their article hook is dramatic and emphasizes the typically frowned upon design commissioning context. The title? “Produced site unseen: Design for a vacation house by Oscar Niemeyer”. The article begins:
”It is considered fundamental in this field that a designer should never proceed with any project without first becoming thoroughly acquainted with both client and site— at first hand. Oscar Niemeyer, one of Brazil’s outstanding young architects, failed to comply with the letter of this rule in producing the design illustrated in this article. Niemeyer met his clients only by mail; saw their California acres only in photographs. Nevertheless New York’s Museum of Modern Art has seen fit to exhibit the model and plan of this house. The design is not only an exceptional performance in itself, but a milestone in modern architecture. Two concepts—one aesthetic and one functional—that have long been taking shape, are here clearly realized.” 
Regarding the MoMA press release’s absence of mentioning the traveling PtA exhibition, Interior Design clarifies, reminding their readers after mentioning the MoMA show and Hitchcock’s book, "As Interiors reported at the time the Miller Company Collection was launched on a country-wide exhibition tour (February 1948 issue…), the collection showed very explicitly the experiments on the design of forms and spaces, which were carried out by modern painters and sculptors, exerted a definitive influence on the development of modern architecture". Regarding the possible MoMA and Miller Co. friendly competition of influence, perhaps Interiors editorial should be added to the Miller Co. camp. 
Two additional points concern the Interiors article. First, why didn’t Niemeyer visit the site? The label for Burle Marx’s garden design, while on view at the Jewish Museum in New York (2016), provides a window into maybe understanding more, "Niemeyer’s affiliation with the Communist Party made travel to the United States difficult, so planning was done at long distance, using photographs of the terrain". Secondly, Interiors clarifies the result of the commissioned visualizations, “Before going any further we must explain that the house will probably not be built in its present form because it is larger and more lavish than the clients want, but this error in scale does not invalidate the design.” 
Documentation in the MoMA exhibition archive also show glimpses that the Tremaines were, as put forth in the Interiors article, facing challenges with realizing the commission. In fact, this had been going on for at least a year. In internal memos at MoMA, we learn that the Niemeyer - Burle Marx material was on temporary loan by the Tremaines at MoMA in mid-April 1948. So, in the design commissioning process, the batch of Tremaine House designs were already received before they received Frank Lloyd Wright’s costly design for Meteor Crater (c. May 1948). (See previous page of this article.) In fact, in May-June 1948, there had been a plan to display at least Niemeyer’s Tremaine House model at MoMA in their Theater Arts Gallery. However, 12 days prior to the scheduled presentation, it was cancelled. On that day it is also communicated via Philip Johnson that, according to Mrs. Tremaine, she had requested a design for a 4000 sq. ft. beach house and received a 12,000 sq. ft. design. She apparently therefore requested a new design. In planning, both designs could be exhibited at a later date. 
Then somehow the following year, the 12,000 sq. ft. design is back on schedule for the exhibition at MoMA opening on 15 February 1949, pitted against Le Corbusier’s iconic Villa Savoye, with accompanying artworks. On 7 February, in a loan receipt, it states that the lender is "The Miller Co., Meriden, Conn." However, in a telegram two days before the exhibition is to open, Mrs. Tremaine in Sun Valley, Idaho requests the withholding of their name as the lender. She also expresses doubt that they will continue with the realization of the Tremaine House project. 
What was going on? Was the doubt and late request for anonymity caused by the challenges of realizing the project itself? When exactly was it known about Niemeyer’s trouble getting into the US— and his connection to Communism— especially considering the project’s association not only on a private basis to the Tremaines but also The Miller Company name? In any event, it appears the request was too late as the Tremaine name and Miller Company spilled into the media coverage at the least. Perhaps the telegrammed flash of desire to be anonymous was reconsidered later and not documented. In any event, clearly over a 10-month period, the found documentation only gives us glimpses of the full picture. Unfortunately also, the details of the initial briefing of Tremaine House by the Tremaines to Niemeyer and Burle Marx are not yet known, and other archival sources, including those in possible third-party archives, may reveal themselves later and provide answers to the mysteries.
Perhaps as Wright claimed, the Tremaines asked for Niemeyer’s design vision in a somewhat free-form brief, and then when the size and cost for realization became apparent, it was too difficult to scale back the design.
Tremaine House and Painting toward architecture
As with the unbuilt Meteor Crater designs, the illustrations of the unbuilt Tremaine House also accompany Hitchcock’s essay in the Painting toward architecture book (p. 53), published just three months earlier in c. November 1948. Also, like the Meteor Crater illustrations caption, there is no mention of the Tremaines. Instead, we see "Project for House and Garden" by Niemeyer and Burle Marx. (Does this reflect a desire to be low-key about the Tremaine involvement in a Miller Company business context and/or art/design world context? Does this reflect the uncertainty and hesitancy to announce involvement in the uncertain commissioning context?)
Further, like Meteor Crater, the visuals hang as more of a general visual accompaniment versus being detailed directly. (Again, this could be caused by the uncertainty, or simply that the book was going to press.) In the book, Hitchcock mentions 13 pages earlier— in his section on Abstract Surrealism— the work of Arp and Miró, and refers directly to Miró’s Personnages dans la Nuit (1940) (illustrated on p. 89) and Jean Arp’s sculptural Relief (1934, on p. 103), which were both in the travelling exhibition. On the following page, Hitchcock writes, "The gardens designed by the painter Burle-Marx, so effectively associated with most of the best new Brazilian buildings, are of course less ’psychological’ than the reliefs of Arp and the paintings of Miro. (See p. 53)." On this page, are the two black-and-white illustrations of Tremaine House showing a bird’s eye view of the garden design and building from above— and also a floor and site plan. 
As one can see above, a lot of key decisions were literally happening at the same time. So, we see the desire to communication the design in the book, to present and communicate it in the travelling exhibition, preparing the presentation for the special MoMA exhibition pitted against the iconic Villa Savoye, all while the commission itself is not sorted out at a fundamental level. What I find particularly impressive is the apparent group consensus that, however uncertain the architectural realization was, that the concept for the house itself had the “it” factor for art/design crossovers at the time. In some spheres, we see this carry on almost 70 years later.
Back to the Painting toward architecture travelling exhibition
Painting toward architecture exhibition as installed at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (January-February 1950). Courtesy the Karl Kamrath Collection, University of Texas at Austin architectural archives. (See FN "Photo B" below for list of works in the photo.)
In this installation shot, to the left is Design for a Garden, (1948) by Roberto Burle Marx.
While the 1949 MoMA show relied on strategies of positioning Le Corbusier’s artwork vis-à-vis a maquette of Villa Savoye, and Arp and Miró works— all artworks from the MoMA collection— vis-à-vis a maquette of Tremaine House, the travelling Painting toward Architecture had Hitchcock’s essay in the book essentially framing the highly variable exhibitions, in addition to his occasional lectures on site. The book includes a photo of the iconic Villa Savoye exterior; also, in the surviving documentation, a photo mural showing an interior view of Villa Savoye (vestibule) was starting to be exhibited at the least by 26 April – 24 May 1949, PtA venue 15, at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art. Both the book and PtA exhibition had an artwork by Le Corbusier (by, at the latest, the Milwaukee venue starting a year earlier in May 1948), and works by Arp and Miró were exhibited since the inaugural show at the Wadsworth in December 1947. 
In the travelling Painting toward architecture exhibition, shortly after the opening of the special exhibition at MoMA, PtA venue 13, the Columbus Museum of Art opened the show in February 1949. Unfortunately, no exhibition checklist has survived or been located. However, what has survived is a handwritten notation on the exhibition checklist at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, noting that Burle Marx’s Design for a garden (1948) was sent to Columbus. While this evidence is certainly not the firmest, it does seem to raise the possibility that more than one gouache work related to Tremaine House was produced. 
Overall, given the uncertain context of the actual commission and design, and the documented concern by Mrs. Tremaine to exhibit Tremaine House, what’s curious in this evolving context is how Design for a garden appears to enter the travelling show by October 1948. Also, what’s equally curious is how the maquette and drawings by Niemeyer appear not to enter the travelling show, based on the limitations of the gathered evidence. But with the concerns, the reaction to Tremaine House in the MoMA exhibition shows praise and opportunity. Design for a garden appears on the checklists until at least the 24th venue in Madison, WI in May 1950. With the introduction of photo murals of architecture, first mentioned at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art in December 1948, we start to see in the haze of incomplete documentation that a photo mural of Niemeyer’s Church at Pampulha is now on view. With its curving and geometric forms, the church pops up in the received items at Smith College sent by RISD in May 1949, again suggesting this was on view at RISD starting 26 April, possibly earlier. Concurrently, there has yet been no found mention of any Niemeyer drawings or the maquette for Tremaine House in the Painting toward architecture venues. 
So, why the inclusion of the Burle Marx work in at least some of the PtA exhibitions, but not those designs by Niemeyer for Tremaine House, even up to over a year later as the travelling exhibition continued, even after the apparent success of the exhibition at MoMA? It seems that all of this material was owned by the Tremaines and/or Miller Company.
Contextually for the travelling works themselves in the highly variable show from 1949-50, some works were dynamically leaving the show to enter other shows, while some others were sent back to New York and Connecticut for repairs. Sometimes new works were being shipped in to enter venues. Were there sensitive feelings about the unrealized commission? Was the Burle Marx work as such considered differently than the Niemeyer works? Perhaps the Tremaines took the steps to ask for permission for inclusion in the PtA shows, perhaps not, or perhaps Niemeyer declined.
What about Ceilings Unlimited?
The last mystery of the unbuilt Tremaine House concerns the lack of apparent inclusion of any element of the Miller Company’s Ceilings Unlimited lighting concept vis-a-vis the stated justification for the Miller Co. art show. While the lighting concepts were intended for commercial interior design, one can imagine somewhere there being a domestic interior application of some kind, even minimal. However, perhaps as with the Wright project, interior lighting suggestions could have come later in the commissioning process, or maybe considered overbearing on Niemeyer, the highly acclaimed architect. But there seems opportunity. 
Lightly reimagining the Painting toward architecture exhibitions
Whatever the practical, personal, and professional contexts surrounding the Tremaine House, I reimagine the maquette by Niemeyer physically placed centrally in the Painting toward architecture travelling exhibition. I also reimagine a drawing or two by Niemeyer— and Wright— also in the show. As the 1949 MoMA press release, the 1949-era magazine articles, and Bergdoll in 2010 state, the project work shows an impressive synthesis of the arts, post-World War II, as the PtA exhibition intended.
This all was enabled by the initiative of Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine, with Niemeyer and Burle Marx, with a conceptual foundational framing by Hitchcock, Barr and Philip Johnson. All participants enabled the interaction, thinking, proposals and dynamism to happen. It just maybe requires a little more spatially and conceptually piecing together. In any event, the Tremaine House project’s radiance requires a closer look to truly see it, via its Design for a garden situated on view this past summer at the DB KunstHalle in Berlin.
5 - A: Painting toward architecture: Three works, three histories, three Modern mysteries | B: Frank Lloyd Wright project for Meteor Crater | C: Niemeyer and Burle Marx - Tremaine House | D: Mondrian’s Victory Boogie Woogie
[FN1] (a): (c. 2017). Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (7 July - 3 October 2017), public announcement page. DB KunstHalle, Berlin website: https://www.deutsche-bank-kunsthalle.de/kunsthalle/en/exhibitions/archive/en-burlemarx.html. (Viewed 29 December 2017.)
(b): (c. 2016). Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (6 May - 18 September 2016), public announcement page. http://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/roberto-burle-marx-brazilian-modernist. (Viewed 29 December 2017.)
(c): (c. 2016). Exhibition checklist and object labels document for Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (6 May - 18 September 2016). Jewish Museum, New York.
(d): (c. 2017). Exhibition checklist for Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (7 July - 3 October 2017). DB KunstHalle, Berlin.
[FN2] (a): Roberto Burle Marx. (1948). Design for a garden. Gouache. 50 1/4 x 27 3/4 in. (Object no. SC19.1966). See Jewish Museum, New York, exhibition checklist; the lender is not specified as MoMA, but “Burle Marx & Cia., Ltda., Rio de Janeiro".
(b): Oscar Niemeyer. (1948). Tremaine House (unbuilt), Montecito, CA (MoMA object no. MC 48). [The maquette and also the following drawings by Niemeyer were donated to MOMA: 1, (Object no. SC73.1966); 2, (Object no. SC79.1966); 3, (Object no. SC75.1966); 4, (Object no. SC81.1966); 5, (Object no. SC80.1966); 6, (Object no. SC78.1966); 7, (Object no. SC74.1966); 8, (Object no. SC76.1966).]
[FN3] See press release for: From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer: Savoye House - Tremaine House 1949 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (15 February - 17 April 1949). (Viewed 31 December 2017.) Website: http://moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2727?locale=en.
[FN4] Bergdoll, Barry. (Summer 2010). The synthesis of arts and MoMa. [This article focuses on the Tremaine House in the 1949 MoMA exhibition, within a wider MoMA context from the 1930s.] Docomomo, 42, pp. 110-13.
FN6] Bergdoll: Ibid. For the press release, see FN3 above.
[FN7] See (a): (16 June 2016- ). The Painting toward architecture exhibition (1947-52) by the Miller Company Collection of Abstract Art: Documentation and historical information. artdesigncafe.com.
(b): (November 1948). Brochure with object list: Painting toward architecture for the Benefit of the Scholarship Fund of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. [M. Knoedler & Co. records, approximately 1848-1971; Series VIII. Exhibition files, 1869-1971. Box 3746: 1948 November 2-20. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Or: Yale University Art Gallery archive.
[FN8] See: Gutheim, Frederick. (16 February 1949). Santa Barbara beach cottage is shown. New York Herald Tribune, p. 16. Also: (16 February 1949). Art examples viewed. New York Times, p. 29.
[FN9] (March 1949). Project for a house in Santa Barbara. Arts and architecture, pp. 26-29.
[FN10] (April 1949). Produced site unseen: design for a vacation house by Oscar Niemeyer. Interiors, pp. 96-105. Also see: Hall, Christopher. (30 September 2006). The mark of a master: An unrealized design in Santa Barbara expresses both exuberance and discipline. Architectural Digest; Sisson, Patrick. (21 February 2017). Take a virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s unbuilt California dream house. Curbed.com; Housley, Kathleen L. (2001). Emily Hall Tremaine: Collector on the Cusp. Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation: Meriden, CT. (See specifically Chapter Six: "Painting toward architecture" and pp, 105, 108-110.) Direct to pdf: https://www.tremainefoundation.org/uploads/6/4/6/7/64670527/housley_emily_2.pdf.
[FN12] See FN1(c): "Exhibition checklist and object labels document for Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist", Jewish Museum; Ibid, Interiors article.
[FN13] See (a): (12 April 1948). Memo from Mrs. Huxtable to Miss Dudley; (b): (13 May 1948). Memo from Mr. Wheeler; (c) (13 May 1948). Memo from Mrs. Barnes to Monroe Wheeler. All three: Folder 400.2. 400. From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer exhibition file. Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records 1929–1959. Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. This exhibition file is thorough and provides a wealth of information.
It should be noted that the Roberto Burle Marx artist file in the Emily Hall Tremaine papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, contains clippings of the two magazine articles resulting from the MoMA exhibition mentioned above. The file also contains a photo of Design for a garden and 3 letters from 1956, 1965, 1966, that don’t relate to the 1949 MoMA installation or commissioning context.
It also should be noted that after reviewing the EHT papers finding aid, it is presumed that there are no letters or other material concerning Oscar Neimeyer or the unbuilt Tremaine House, but of course, items can inadvertently be located in other file folders such as correspondence with third parties.
[FN14] See (a): (7 February 1949). Memo from Mrs. Huxtable to Miss Dudley. (Folder 400.2); (b) (14 February 1949). Telegram from Emily Hall Tremaine to Louise Huxtable. (Folder 400.4). 400. From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer exhibition file. Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records 1929–1959. Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.
[FN15] Miller Company. (1948). Painting toward architecture [Essay by Henry-Russell Hitchcock; foreword by Alfred H. Barr, Jr.; introduction by Burton Tremaine; acknowledgements by Emily Hall Tremaine; book design by Bradbury Thompson.] New York; Duell, Sloan and Pearce; 118 pp.
[FN16] D. D. (1 October 1948). "Painting toward architecture" [book review]. Architectural Forum, 89(4), pp. 158-59.
[FN17] (a): See FN15, Painting toward architecture, p. 25.
(b): re: lectures, see: (16 June 2016- ). The Painting toward architecture exhibition (1947-52) by the Miller Company Collection of Abstract Art: Documentation and historical information. artdesigncafe.com.
(c): (3 June 1949). "Received by the Smith College Museum of Art". Sent to Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. 6 pp. Painting toward architecture exhibition file, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art archive, Providence, RI.
(d): (9 June 1948). Miller Company letter to California Palace Legion of Honor, San Francisco. (The letter specifies the works expected to be received from the previous PtA venue in Milwaukee.) 4 pp.
[FN18] (c. 1948). Painting toward architecture exhibition - object list (with handwritten notation of where works were sent afterwards). Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston archive.
[FN19] (a): Cincinnati: The Society. (1948). Invitation with objects list, Painting toward architecture exhibition. (11-31 October 1948). [1 folded sheet]. Museum of Modern Art library, New York, call no. GEC 1948 0056; also in the Cincinnati Art Museum archive.
(b): (1950). Program sheet with object list. Painting toward architecture exhibition (at Memorial Union, University of Wisconsin-Madison; 23 May - 14 June 1950). University of Wisconsin-Madison library archives.
(c): (3 June 1949). "Received by the Smith College Museum of Art". Sent to Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. 6 pp. Painting toward architecture exhibition file, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art archive, Providence, RI.
[FN20] See (a): Introduction page of this article and footnote related to Painting toward architecture-era product design and interior concepts.
(b:) Preece, Robert. (July-August 2017). Rethinking "Painting toward architecture" (1947-52). Sculpture magazine, 36(6), pp. 18-21. (Linked above is an online reprint of this article, which mentions Ceilings Unlimited.)
(c:) See a sample interior concept embedded in a 1948 advertisement in Architectural Forum.
Overview: Tremaine / Miller Co. art & design | 1: Painting toward architecture - Miller Co. press release | 2: Painting toward architecture: Documentation and historical information | 3: Painting toward architecture - artworks and designs | 4: Article - "Rethinking ’Painting toward architecture’ (2017)" | 5: Article - "Painting toward architecture: Three works, three histories, three Modern mysteries" (2017) | 6: Article - "Van Doesburg artworks in PtA" | 9: Miller Co / Tremaine art & design in exhibitions (1945-present)