Members in the News

Obituary: Franz Schulze, 1927-2019

by Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune | Dec 10, 2019

Franz Schulze, a prolific Chicago art critic and educator who chronicled the lives and work of two of the 20th century’s most consequential architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, died Monday (December 9, 2019)  at the Radford Green assisted living facility in north suburban Lincolnshire.

Schulze, who previously lived in Lake Forest , was 92. The cause of death was complications due to infections, according to his sons Matthew and Luke.

In addition to his work on Mies and Johnson, Schulze was highly regarded for his book on the Imagist artists who dominated Chicago’s art scene after World War II.

As a freelance art critic for the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times from the 1960s to the 1980s — and as a contributor to the nationally circulated magazines ARTNews and Art in America — Schulze reached a broad audience.

He also shaped the views of hundreds of students as a professor of art at Lake Forest College, where he began teaching in 1952. Officially retired in 1991, he continued to teach as an emeritus professor. In recent years, alumni of the school endowed a scholarship in his honor.

“His writing and thinking was, at its best, sparkling,” said Edward Windhorst, who co-authored a revised edition of Schulze’s Mies biography that was published in 2012. “He really dazzled you with his skill at observation and his love of language and the use of it to convey what he thought.”

Tall, mustachioed and dapper, with a penetrating voice that added weight to his observations, Schulze cut a distinctive figure. “He told me many times he loved strutting on the stage of the lecture hall,” Windhorst said.

Schulze was born in 1927 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. His family moved to downstate Pekin, then in 1942 to Chicago’s North Side, near Wrigley Field. A year later, Schulze entered the University of Chicago at age 16.

The degrees that followed — a bachelor of philosophy from the U. of C. (1945), and a bachelor and master of fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1949 and 1950) — laid the foundation for Schulze’s career as an artist, art historian and art critic.

His 1972 book “Fantastic Images: Chicago Art since 1945,” examined the work of Chicago artists like Leon Golub, whose paintings conveyed emotional intensity through grotesque representations of the human figure. In a nod to this tendency, the artists, who departed from the abstract expressionism that then prevailed in New York, were dubbed the “Monster Roster".

Schulze wrote that their work should be recognized as “an activity of some essential and serious existential import” even though it was “anti-rational to the point of perversity” — and, thus, a sharp departure from Chicago’s tradition of logic, clarity and reason in modern art and architecture.

In 1985, Schulze grappled with the legacy of the architect who personified that tradition — the German-born emigre Mies van der Rohe, whose credits included such masterworks as New York’s Seagram Building and Chicago’s 860-880 Lake Shore Drive high-rises.

Appearing 16 years after Mies’ death and at a time when postmodern architects were assaulting Mies’ approach to architecture, Schulze’s “Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography” etched a sharply defined portrait of Mies, the man, and Mies, the architect.

Tribune architecture critic Paul Gapp called it “the most comprehensive book ever written about the master designer and, by any measure, the best. ... Mies is drawn as the immensely talented giant he was, but also as a man of excesses, selfishness and the kind of single-mindedness that seems always to be freighted with arrogance.”

Remembering Schulze on Tuesday, Mies’ grandson, Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, credited the author with meticulous research and the ability to put Mies into the context of early 20th century Europe and its other leading modernists, like the Swiss-born Le Corbusier. “He knew some things that I didn’t even know,” Lohan said.

Schulze’s 1994 biography, “Philip Johnson: Life and Work," charted the ever-shifting aesthetic preferences of its subject, who did much to popularize modernist architecture with the landmark “International Style” show of 1932, then championed a revolt against it in the 1970s.

Schulze also was the first biographer to recount in detail Johnson’s nearly decadelong foray into right-wing politics, including his fascination with Nazi spectacle.

“It is much to Franz Schulze’s credit that he does not duck this great unpleasantness — the persistently ugly yin to the celebrated yang of Johnson’s reputation,” author Ross Miller wrote in a Tribune review of the book.

Johnson, who died in 2005, reportedly disliked the book, leading to a rift between author and subject. "Philip Johnson does not remember me in his prayers,” Schulze once told the Tribune.

Schulze wrote or edited more than 10 books, including a guide to Mies’ Farnsworth House, a history of Lake Forest College titled “Thirty Miles North” and “Chicago’s Famous Buildings,” a guide to landmark structures that he co-authored with Illinois Institute of Technology professor Kevin Harrington.

Schulze will be buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, where such renowned architects as Mies and Daniel Burnham have their graves. His marker, Windhorst said, will read: “Franz Schulze: Artist, Critic, Biographer.”

Besides his two sons, he is survived by two grandchildren. Marriages to Marianne Gaw Schulze and Stephanie Mora ended in divorce. His companion of 25 years, Manya Schaff, died in 2015.

A memorial is being arranged.

Professor Schulze joined SAH in 1986. 


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610