A few weeks ago I announced that the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach will be mounting the rarely seen work of Plakatstil master Julius Klinger. I noted, as well, that a catalog will accompany the exhibition, claiming it was the first English publication about the artist. At that point I did not know about a fine book, The Life and Art of Julius Klinger: Beyond Poster Art in Vienna by Karen Etingin, who owns a vintage poster gallery called L’Affichiste in Montreal, specializing in original works on paper by artists like Cappiello, Cassandre, Hohlwein and, of course, Klinger. This volume offers some important insights into his posters and typefaces. I contacted Etingin to ask about her book (available here) and her interest in this unique designer.
What brought you to the world of Julius Klinger?
When I began to acquire an inventory of posters for the gallery that would become L’Affichiste, I came across a copy of Klinger’s Poster Art in Vienna. In that portfolio is a work called “Red Cross Redoute” that reminded me of someone or something I couldn’t place. As I wrote in my book (p. 125),
The woman in the poster seemed defiant and determined, very confident of herself and her body, and somehow very familiar. It was only later, when I had purchased the Klinger portfolio and had the time and luxury of looking at the work more closely, that I thought I recognized my grandmother.
In her youth, my grandmother attended the Reimann Schule in Berlin. When I conducted my initial research and realized that Klinger had taught there as well, I thought initially that my grandmother—who modeled to make pocket money—was indeed the woman in the poster. By the time I realized that the dates of her Reimann Schule experience didn’t coincide with Klinger’s tenure there, I was already lost in Klinger’s world.
Later still I realized that the poster had in fact been created by one of Klinger’s students … but the spell had been cast. I spent the next five years writing the book.
He is one of the so-called Plakatstil artists. What were his direct and indirect influences?
Early on Klinger studied with Koloman Moser and I think his influence (along with the general impact of the Vienna Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte) is evident in the works he produced in his younger years. In 1894 he studied at the Technological Trade Museum of Applied Arts (Technologische Gewerbemuseum) in Vienna and volunteered at the Viennese Graphic Industry Corporation. Moser, and to a great degree Beardsley, are clear influences on his early work.
Later on, at Hollerbaum und Schmidt, Klinger was at the epicenter of poster design development and surrounded by colleagues like Bernhard, Hans Rudi Erdt, Ernst Deutsch and Julius Gipkens. Under the direction of Ernst Growald, Klinger evolved from an artist steeped in the traditions of Jugendstil/Art Nouveau to one who was energized and who energized his posters and graphic design with the colors, the energy and the humor of the plakat.
I think that when one looks at the totality of his work, there is a clear evolution of design and direction, but I also think that his later work would not have been possible without the rigorous design training he received early on.
I did not realize that he did so much in the U.S. How was his work received?
He actually did not produce much work in the U.S. (at least not work that has survived). As far as I know, Klinger travelled to the U.S. twice. During his first trip he stayed in Buck’s County, PA, and hoped to find work (through Bernhard, I believe) in New York. To the best of my knowledge, during that first trip he was not successful in finding employment or successful poster contracts. He left the U.S. in a hurry, leaving behind a portfolio of designs, one of which I purchased (p. 124 in my book). I knew that Klinger had hoped to teach at the New School, and Jeremy discovered that on his second trip to the U.S., Klinger did indeed give a class on poster design in German (with a translator present).
How did you tap into your research? Does he have an estate or trust?
Klinger died in a concentration camp and had no children. There is no estate or trust.
When I decided to write this book I hired a German-speaking research assistant who traveled to Berlin and Vienna. She met with Klinger experts (Anita Kühnel and Peter Klinger, no relation to Julius) who generously answered her questions and provided research materials from their archives. With this initial information I began to construct the book.
Susan Reinhold of the Reinhold Brown Gallery was instrumental in putting me in touch with curators in Europe who went out of their way to help. Martjin Le Coultre of the IADDB put his database to work for me, Rene Grohnert at the Museum Folkwang/Deutsches Plakat Museum photographed his vast Klinger collection gratis, Anita Kühnel and Peter Klinger were kind and patient with repeated email correspondence, and poster curators at museums elsewhere were equally helpful.
Over the time it took to research and write the book I dealt with curators in Europe, Israel, the U.S., U.K., Canada … I spoke with and corresponded with anyone who I thought might be able to give me information on Klinger and essentially connected the dots. Some leads were dead ends, some led to other information, but all of them helped to provide background and substance to the book.
I also did not know about his type design. How important is this to his work overall?
I think it is essential. The way Klinger used type—its placement, its design—evolved.
If you look at his work for Tabu (pages 53, 56, 57, 170, 209, 211, 212, 215, 235), you can see the playfulness Klinger integrated into his posters through the use of type and fonts. Klinger also wanted to create an International Graphic Code—something I see as a precursor to pictograms and iconograms. Type played an integral role in that too. In the book I call Klinger one of the first poster artists who looked at brands (most particularly Tabu) as a marketer and ad man. He looked at the totality of the brand—everything from logo and letterhead design to posters and billboards that literally covered the walls of the city—and did everything he could to promote brand identity and awareness. In this I believe he was influenced by Growald, but I think Klinger brought his own vision to what a brand could be and to what it could do. His work for Tabu included appeals to both a highbrow audience and the man on the street. He instinctively understood how what we now call “branding” should work, and he did everything in his power toward promoting the brands for whom he worked.
Klinger also used humor in his posters in a way that other did not. My current favorite (it changes), Plate 4.10 (p. 50) for Gerber Cigarettes, is a good example: two minotaurs sharing a smoke, nonchalantly chatting against a backdrop of the Swiss Alps. It’s witty, slightly erotic, very brazen (in person the colors really pop) and totally Klinger. Many of the plakatstil artists had Klinger’s talent, but few had his sense of comic awareness.
Finally, I think it is important to note that although Klinger was not (to my knowledge) a practicing Jew, he nonetheless was part of the Jewish intelligentsia in both Berlin and Vienna (when he lived in those cities), and he died because of his religion. His posters are a tribute to his education, his sense of place and self, and his background—both cultural and religious.
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