The Voice | Early Modernism
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Early Modernism

 

Early Modernism


Terms to know: Frank Lloyd Wright • Beggarstaff Brothers • Collage • Glasgow Group of Four • Talwin Morris •Jugendstil • Otto Eckmann • Peter Behrens • AEG • Form follows function • Vienna Secession • Gustav Klimt • Ver SacrumWiener WerkstattePlakatstil • Lucian Bernhard • Expressionism

With the turn of the century, creatives began looking for styles that would address the changing world. Austria, Scotland and other Germans began moving out of Art Nouveau after 1900, ditching floral lines for a more linear look. The era (1900-1930) was still marked by antagonism between art and commerce. Businesspeople wanted to sell product, not create art.

Vienna Secession

In 1897, a group of younger architects, painters and dissidents resigned from the Künstlerhaus, or Viennese Creative Artists’ Academy, or Fine Arts Academy, because of the older artists’ refusal to embrace the looks coming in from the rest of Europe. They called themselves The Secession. The ringleader was Gustav Klimt; cohorts included architect Joseph Olbrich, Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser. From the beginning, they created a forum to draw international artists: Whistler, Rodin, Walter Crane and Max Klinger. The Secessionists embraced new styles, and opened galleries for drawing, and Japanese work.

The Secessionists liked straight lines, simplified geometry, and sans serif lettering, which was a precursor to Modernism. Secessionists’ style was lighter than Jugendstil, which was heavy at times. There is also often a balance and sense of order to it. Secessionists made contributions in art, architecture, graphic design, sculpture, printmaking, jewelry and more.

The Arts & Crafts movement of England influenced Secessionists. Charles Ashbee was on hand, then Walter Crane took the mantle. He founded an exhibition that placed Arts & Crafts on the level of other arts. This was the 8th exhibition, 1900. It also included 33 works by Glasgow architect Charles Mackintosh and his wife. The Viennese loved Mackintosh’s wok. In 1901, Secessionists decided to try having a show around one work of art, like Max Klinger’s Beethoven monument. 14th exhibition, 1902. Klimt did his famous frieze.

Their journal was Ver Sacrum (Sacred Word), published 1898-1903. A lot of innovative styles appeared here and it was very influential, even though the circulation was tiny (600 at most), the editorial staff was unpaid and the years of its existence short. Ver Sacrum experimented with lots of looks, printing techniques, tipped in original works, experimented with colors, etc. They even designed all the ads. Published essays, poems, even an illustrated monthly calendar.

Alfred Roller applied his innovative designs to many disciplines, including jewelry, theatre sets and for Ver Sacrum. If the type in his posters were illegible, so be it. The idea was to look at the piece as a whole, the total design aesthetic. In contemporary times, designer David Carson has the same philosophies. Roller’s poster for the 14th Vienna Secession exhibition predates Cubism and Art Deco.

Impressionism was also growing at this time, which formed a split among the Secessionists. Gustav Klimt and his followers wanted art to penetrate every phase of life, while the Impressionists wanted to be more exclusive. Klimt Group left: secession from the Secession.

Architect Adolf Loos wrote a famous article in Ver Sacrum called “Potemkin City” that compared Vienna’s ornate building facades to the cardboard villages built in the Ukraine to fool Russian ruler Catherine the Great as she went by. He hated any decoration that didn’t serve a purpose, even trashing the Secessionists. Embraced the use of empty space. In 1906, he built Villa Karma in Switzerland, a precursor to 1920s Modernism. Loos opposed any decorations on buildings. He thought the lack of ornamentation generated character and spiritual power. Loos thought that architecture should not be a form of art, but should be effective for the economy and times. He was strongly opposed to Art Nouveau and contemporary design. Loos designed all of his buildings without decoration, and became a shaper of the International Style. Loos taught all throughout Europe, and encouraged his students to go to the United States. He became better known for his articles against Art Nouveau and other decorative styles than for his buildings.

Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens (pronounced PATR BARNS) was an architect and designer who did work for several publications, not just Jugend. Behrens picked up Arts & Crafts influences, ditching the plantlike frilliness of Art Nouveau for more dimensional approaches.

Behrens was an orphan at 14, but inherited a lot from his father’s estate. The money allowed him to pursue his passions. He was a painter at first in the florid Art Nouveau style, then moved into architecture and design. Was tremendously influential. He and Joseph Olbrich were part of an experimental colony sponsored by the Grand Duke of Hessen, who gave them land and had them build their own homes, décor, cutlery, etc. TOTAL DESIGN. He was a type and design reformer, trying to find looks that incorporated society and culture with the turn-of-the-century spirit of 1900. Advocate of sans serif type. His booklet, Celebration of Life and Art: A Consideration of the Theater as the Highest Symbol of a Culture, was entirely in sans serif, one of the first to do so.

1903, Behrens became director of the Düsseldorf School of Arts and Crafts. The school was big on analyzing lines, patterns and geometry. This laid the groundwork for Bauhaus curriculum. Two of Behren’s apprentices were Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Behrens eventually adopted a colleague’s circle-within-a-square applications, which when played out formed a basis for the design of everything from furniture to architecture. Major cornerstone of 20th century design. Built a “grid” system for allocation of space in the layout.

Behrens worked with van de Velde and others in trying to combine design with industry. William Morris influenced them, but while Morris hated technology, they embraced it.

Behrens joined AEG in 1907. He was one of the first industrial designers, crafting lamps, teapots and more for his employer, the giant German conglomerate, AEG. For AEG, he created a total corporate identity: logo, typeface, products, storefronts, buildings and more.

Also in 1907, Behrens, Muthesius, van de Velde founded the Werkbund in Munich. They were looking for a new culture and design aesthetic that could exist in a totally synthetic, man-made environment. Muthesius and his followers said there should be standardization of design, which was more efficient, with no design or ornamentation. Manufacturing by machine demanded simplicity, which would lead to more efficient mass production. Form Follows Function

Van de Velde and his followers still believed in the artisan over the machine. Behrens was in the middle, but his AEG work showed his inclinations toward Muthesius’ camp. Behrens became known as “Mr. Werkbund.” He established before World War I a predominantly utilitarian type of architecture that at the same time achieved qualities of clarity and impressiveness. His factory buildings were among the earliest European works to base a simple and effective style upon the frank terms of modern construction. He is known also for residences, for workers’ apartment houses in Vienna, and for his pioneering work in industrial design. Among his pupils were future modern architecture leaders Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Miës van der Rohe.

Behrens soon developed an austerely geometric, functional style that in time became the standard for modern industrial buildings. Behrens pioneered in the use of such new building techniques and materials as poured concrete, exposed exterior steel supports, and a lavish use of glass, as in his AEG Turbine Factory (1909) in Berlin.

Behrens can be considered a key figure in the transition from Jugendstil to Industrial Classicism. He played a central role in the evolution of German Modernism. Behrens died in Berlin in 1940.

Germany’s biggest design contribution wasn’t Jugendstil, but what it spawned. It was the birth of modern design.

Jugendstil (Youth Style)

In 1895, Pan magazine was founded. It was followed the next year by Simplicissimus and JugendJugendstil started in Berlin and spread. Jugend’s style was more precise and hard-cornered (German) than its European counterparts. The subtitle of their magazine Jugend was “Munich’s Weekly Magazine of Life and the Arts” showing that it wanted to blend art & society. Started in 1896 and spread throughout Germany. Medieval type is emblematic of Jugendstil. Germany was the only country to keep Gutenberg’s letterface instead of adopting Renaissance look. Otto Eckmann and Peter Behrens were two of its leading artists.

Glasgow Style 

 In Glasgow in the 1890s, four students at the Glasgow School of Art — Charles Mackintosh, J. Herbert McNair and sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald — began to collaborate. They became known as the Group of Four, or Glasgow School. Both men eventually married the two sisters. Like Wright, they cut back on curves in favor of harder angles. They designed graphics, textiles and interiors and architecture. Mackintosh’s architectural style is often defined by a slight curve where the perpendicular lines meet (1/2 Art Nouveau, 1/2 Early Modern). The same is true of his furniture: straight lines with a bit of decoration. The Glasgow School was much more influential to the Austrian Secessionists than in the U.K. They were invited to the Arts & Crafts exhibition in 1896, but underwhelmed the organizers, who didn’t invite them back. Kicked butt at Munich exhibition (1900) and Turin (1902).
Architecturally, The Four were minimalists, emphasizing white walls, light and a limited number of pieces in key places. Vertical lines, tempered by small arcs, carefully located arcs and circles marked their style. Every piece of furniture had a purpose and was thought out, which parallels Wright’s desire to design the entire interior, right down to the telephones.
Mackintosh borrowed from Celtic themes and designs in his work. He also broke away from Art Nouveau in his restraint. He used space and angular lines, which really distinguished him from his European contemporaries. It combined with cubism in fine arts to lay the foundation for an entirely new visual aesthetic, Modernism.
Another significant figure in Glasgow was Talwin Morris. Morris got a job as the art director at Blackie’s, a Glasgow publishing firm, and was influenced by The Four. He helped spread the look with a huge output of encyclopedias, novels and more.

Mo Early Modernism

Frank Lloyd Wright broke new ground with his concepts of total design. Interior and exterior must work together to create an integrated living space that was harmonious with nature. It was more modular and geometric, with an emphasis on repetitive rectangular patterns. Wright was very influential to European designers.

England
Brothers-in-law James Pryde and Sir William Nicholson called themselves the Beggarstaff Brothers. They got their name from a sack of corn made by the Beggarstaff Brothers company. They did posters so they’d have money to paint. They basically invented the collage by cutting pieces of paper and moving the simple images around on the board. The Beggarstaffs helped spur a revival in poster design. Part of the success of their “affiches” was the result of a new process of engraving on wood, which they developed. Their style was inspired by the French poster art of Toulouse-Lautrec and others, and their work became widely influential.

In 1894, Eckmann auctioned off his paintings in favor of commercial art. He also designed jewelry, furniture, fashion, and a typeface that was a huge hit in its time. The face combined oriental influences, Art Nouveau and medieval lettering. Died at 37 of consumption (TB, the white plague, killed 1 billion people worldwide).

Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops)

1902, Hoffman went to England to see Ashbee and Arts & Crafts workshops. Moser & Hoffman got financial backing from Fritz Waerndorfer and launched the Vienna Workshops (Wiener Werkstätte) in 1903. It was designed to promote the art craftsmen in Vienna. Waerndorfer remained the director and inspiration of the Workshop until 1913. Their goal was to ensure that all objects of daily use were artistically designed. TOTAL ART in detail.

The Werkstätte artists mirrored the Glasgow School, but without the virgins, flowers and mysticism. The workshops were similar to William Morris’ studios. They did 2-dimensional design for textiles, wallpapers, books and cards. Hoffmann designed furniture, and several buildings went up in their style. Functionality, proportion, restrained decoration were the hallmarks of the workshops. They hired craftspeople like tanners and bookbinders to execute their visions and create beautiful works of art. Moser left the Workshops in 1907 and died in 1018 at 50. Vienna declined as a creative center, although the workshops survived and produced memorable work all the way into the 1930s.

Plakatstil (Poster Style) was eclectic, without an affiliation to any one artist or school. It’s only mandatory was that attract attention immediately and break through the clutter of all the other stuff on the street. It came to be connoted with bold lettering, a clean, direct image and intrusive colors. Plakatstil was so powerful that advertisers often reduced their images to postage stamp size and distributed everywhere, like on envelopes. It was a novel way to break through the swarm of competing images: the birth of creative media.

The German magazine Das Plakat featured the works of talented artists and designers, helping the artists gain credibility and further marrying art with industry. It was a gorgeous magazine, with nice printing runs, tip-ins, fold-outs, etc.

Lucian Bernhard was a child prodigy who helped create the object poster, almost by accident. He did a poster at the last minute for a competition. He kept taking out items in the painting until just a book of matches remained, with the product name. This last-minute submission was bound for the trash heap when a judge noticed it at the last minute and declared it a masterpiece. Bernhard became the watershed poster for a flood of similar ones, like the Opel poster.

Expressionism was an attempt to solve social crises through earthly efforts. Philosophers, scientists and artists worked together. It was born in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Germany in 1905 but was really pan-European, not German. Expressionism blended Jugendstil’s B&W patterns, Impressionism’s colors, mysticism and spiritualism, and science. The forced opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry led to influx of Japanese art into the west. Arts & Crafts movement & rococo style also influenced it.

German Expressionism began as international youth movement. Started with architects in Dresden called The Bridge. It championed painting over architecture: figurative Expressionists. Wanted an inner, imaginative expression over an impression. Symbolism dominated the literary and artistic movements in the late 19th century as it sought ways to reduce the impact of material world and explore the spiritual. Expressionism in Germany from 1900-1920 was the same way. It explored inner feelings through external works. It wasn’t a style, but an attitude. It was rooted in the past because of its reliance of human figure, yet was compulsively original. Periodical was The Storm.

1912: Second major Expressionist group was The Blue Rider. Leaders were Wassily Kandisnky & Franz Marc. Looked for symbolism in the abstraction: abstract Expressionists. The Blue Rider Almanac was their book (1912). As materialism declined, spiritualism would reign. It became a look of harsh woodcuts & lithographs with sharp colors.

During W.W. I, some artists were hawks (prowar), while others were doves (pacifists). After Germany lost, many Expressionists supported the 1918 Revolution in Germany by creating posters, publications and graphics. The Expressionist style defended the revolution, was against strikebreaking, even fought Bolshevism. Some major groups — Cubists, Expressionists and Futurists (who were right wing), tried to unite in spiritual revolution, but personal agendas made this union futile.

The last years of 1918-22 still had excitement, as Expressionists believed they could help shape a new society. The issued political manifestos and got involved in politics. However the Weimar Republic ended and the Socialist Party rose. It lost its political focus as books and others adopted it. Became a veneer as the market was saturated. Hitler and the Nazis hated it and labeled it as symbol of protest and revolt. Expressionist artists were denounced as degenerate. Yet, even after World War II, their philosophy and style continued to exert influence. Expressionists believed art could improve human race. Exposed brutality of war and then harshness of German post-war society. Primitive woodcut style is hallmark of their style. It was one of the early Mod