Jeremy Aynsley, Director of the Centre for Design History reports from the USA
Over the past eighteen months, I have been guest curator for the exhibition Julius Klinger Posters for a Modern Age that opened on 5 October at the Wolfsonian Florida International University, Miami Beach. Julius Klinger (1876-1942) was a Viennese-born poster designer, graphic artist and illustrator who made his name in Berlin and Vienna from the late 1890s. His work crosses Jugendstil, the Vienna Secession and by the 1920s, has some parallels with Modernism in typography and graphic design. Taught in the principles of ornament common across the generation of the Arts and Crafts reform movement in Europe of the 1880s, Klinger also became a skilled type designer and graphic satirist, whose work appeared in leading weekly magazine in Austria and Germany.
As an assimilated Jew, Klinger and his second wife Emilie’s lives ended in Maly Trostinets extermination camp near Minsk in June 1942. They were deported from Vienna, where he had been forbidden from practice after the Austria’s Anschluß (annexation) by the National Socialists, in early 1938. Julius was one of four children and we have no evidence of any members of the family surviving the Holocaust. The Wolfsonian holds the largest collection of Klinger’s posters, smaller graphic works, illustrated books and ephemera in the USA. Other principal collections are at MAK (Museum für Angewandte Kunst) Vienna and the Art Library (Kunstbibliothek), part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
The major challenge of research towards the exhibition and accompanying publication, mainly carried out in Berlin and Vienna, was that no Klinger archive exists, as is also the case for many of his patrons and the printing companies who contracted him. The main source for understanding him therefore was the body of works themselves, the wider context of the emergent graphic design profession, and Klinger’s own writings. He was a polemical figure who frequently published his lectures – possibly modeling himself on his more famous Viennese contemporaries Adolf Loos and Karl Kraus. He also held several positions as Professor, at the Reimann School Berlin, Magdeburg School of Art and, briefly, in New York. From these sources, it was possible to build up a sense of Klinger’s attitudes towards the role of design, including his growing outspoken antipathy to the Vienna Secession, his enthusiasm for American culture, and his dismissal of the more radical sides of Modernism.
The leading research question was to ask how Klinger’s understanding of graphic art changed with the development of the urban environments of Berlin and Vienna as vibrant centres of European culture in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. In Berlin, he took on work for theatre, cabaret and the applied arts, as well as commercial products. Later in the Vienna period (1915-1938) he also worked for the municipality of Vienna and Austrian national organisations. He designed logos and trademarks, and devised ‘An International Graphic Code’, parallel to the Otto and Marie Neurath’s Isotype system at the same time in late 1920s Vienna. Klinger was of the generation before ‘graphic design’ as such was known, when categories were far from fixed. He advocated a rational approach to design, disliked what he saw as the overly stylized work of the Vienna Secessionists, and argued that the designer primarily should meet the needs of the client. Nonetheless, he maintained a strongly individual style in posters that he would always sign with a distinctive signature to establish his authorship.
Another important question is about Klinger’s relationship with America. He travelled there twice, first to work as art director for the motor industry in Detroit in 1929, and second, to deliver a course at the New School, New York in 1932. Questions therefore arise, but remain unanswered, as to whether Klinger intended to settle permanently in the US, adjusting his working design practices like several of his contemporaries with whom he was in contact during these visits.
The exhibition runs through to 1 April 2018 and currently plans are in progress for it to travel to New York and one other venue still to be confirmed.