Notice anything here that doesn't seem quite right? This full-pager for Buick might not be the most absurd advertisement in history, but there's certainly much that defies logic, or at least common sense. First of all, if you're going to use the Glass House for a photo shoot, it would make sense to open the sliding screens so you can actually see through the thing. Then there's the couple standing in front of the door. Who are they? They seem to be just married (she's in a wedding gown), but the only guests are two boys chasing each other around a rather phallic Lipchitz sculpture. And then there's the most blatant and egregious mark of disjunction: the leaden and stupendously butch 1966 Buick Electra 225 parked on the lawn of America's most singularly ethereal private residence. I understand the urge to class up the behemoth, but let's not get carried away. The whole thing seems like a joke.
Which, in fact, is precisely what it was, though I wonder if the folks at GM (or their agency, McCann Erickson) were in on it. Unlikely as it may seem, Philip Johnson, architect of America's WASP elite, was at one time the (not entirely) proud owner of a very proletarian Buick sedan, which he left out for all to see before his pristine glass pavilion. “I don’t believe in garages. I leave it out in the snow,” he told an audience at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950. He also called it "the ugliest object I have ever owned," not that he was apologetic about it. “It is a magnificent car. I am not being funny." The occasion was a symposium on automotive aesthetics, and Johnson was happily upending expectation, acting the enfant terrible, as was his wont. Normally the last person to privilege function over form, he told those gathered that he chose the Buick ("no boos please!") for its comfort and effortless power ("I have been arrested three times"), and he cautioned automotive designers not to forget those critical attractions. The style of the thing was unfortunate, but he had the chrome plating removed.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that given his personal history it would have been politically expedient for Johnson to own an American car in the immediate postwar years. By the time this ad appeared, however, he had given up on American cars for a series of Mercedes. Also worth noting: bizarrely inappropriate applications of the Glass House in advertising were something of a tradition:
I close with a question, prompted by the above: What's the ugliest object you've ever owned (and loved despite itself)? For me, it's a beat-up old kitchen cabinet from the 1970s that I find somehow endearing. (My wife thinks I'm insane and it stays in the attic.) How about you?