The Daily Heller: Resurrection of Secession

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Do you know the difference between a graphic facsimile and a reproduction? For the orthodox design faithful, there is a huge difference. The former is as exact a duplication of an original as possible (see my explanation here). It is indeed a faithful resurrection (look, touch, warts and all) of an artifact (usually of historical value and scholarly, commercial or material import), which, although not intended as a fake to deceive the eye and mind, should be able to do so.

A reproduction, on the other hand, is an obvious copy of any artifact. (It should go without saying that anything printed is a copy of something, but there is a fine distinction.) A facsimile is the reprint of something rare in order to capture all the minute original details—akin to forgery but without the implied intent of a criminal act—while a reproduction is an example used, let’s say, for reference.

Facsimiles are in many ways more practical than the real article. Although a superb facsimile is usually costly to produce and increases in value over time, it is never as expensive as the original. More importantly, for scholars, facsimiles can be handled (with care) without climate controls, armed guards and a librarian’s watchful protective gaze.

Which brings us to Letterform Archive BooksDie Fläche (Facsimile Edition): Design and Lettering of the Vienna Secession, 1902–1911. It is one of the most exquisitely beautiful, expertly crafted facsimile editions I have ever held in my hands.

However, before we get too deep into the well-deserved praise, it can be argued that this volume is not exactly a facsimile (the way, say, Depero’s Bolted Book is). This Die Fläche is simulacrum-reproduction; it recreates every page of the formative Austrian periodical in “full color and at original size, preserving even the accordion foldouts of the second volume.” It also includes a Vienna Secession–inspired typeface for its cover design. Finally, it is bound as a sole volume rather than individual issues. It may seem like a hairsplitting distinction, but for connoisseurs it is important. Yet not as important as the final result—a production masterpiece.

The decision to print Die Fläche (“The Surface”) as a single edition makes it cost-efficient. Pricing this standards bible of the Jugendstil/Secession (Art Nouveau) reasonably more affordable trumps pristine facsimile fealty anytime. It is, moreover, the only complete run I’ve ever seen of this incredible publication. The reader is also rewarded with in-depth essays contextualizing the work created by pioneering women designers, innovative lettering artists, and key practitioners of the new “surface art,” including Rudolf von Larisch, Alfred Roller, and Wiener Werkstätte founders Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann—Secession modernists all. With complete translations, a glossary and selected artist biographies, this book provides unprecedented access to a major document of design history.

Die Fläche is the first in the Letterform Archive Facsimile series, and it has already set a high bar to reach for the next one, whatever it may be.