Photographed Architecture on Picture Postcards 1919 - 1939
Photographed Architecture on Picture Postcards 1919-1939
Ed. Kirsten Baumann and Rolf Sachsse
Collection, concept and selection by Bernd Dicke
Arnoldsche Art Publisher, Stuttgart, 2004.
216 pages, 163 (6 col.) illustrations
March 14th to April 20th, 2006
Curator and Architect of the Exhibition
Concept and Organisation
Billions of them were sent out, they were cheap and within two days they made their way through the whole of Europe: About 130 years ago, the picture postcard - which had officially been introduced in Austria in 1869 and one year later in Germany - was the fastest of all means of communication. Any school, any railway station and almost every existing public building had its own picture postcard. That way the revolutionary new buildings of the early 20th Century influenced by the Bauhaus movement of the Werkbund could be captured and reproduced on those picture postcards.
From the beginning of their creation and circulation picture postcards were collected, but in the end, they were still seen as transient media. Even if frequently used in large quantities they existed without being really noticed. The sender could never be sure, that the postcard would reach its destination uncensored or arrive at all. In the early years, the sending and receiving of picture postcards could be seen as a means to explore the boundaries of censorship and taste.
That kind of playful character has remained up to the present days - especially in regards of the artistic forms of expression of mail art and conceptual art since 1970. Postcards are still about distinction between public and private life and matters: beneath the exchanged information from sender to adressee, an indefinite group of accidental participants or watchers could be addressed.
A broad effect means advantage in advertising: Architects discovered and established the picture postcard as an instrument for advertising their buildings and architectural positions. The cards emblematised the image of the "new art of building" all over the world. The most extensive archive of the European Avantgarde in photography and architecture originates rather accidentally and unperceived from that spreading of images during the time between the two world wars and leaves back the greatest treasure of the Modern Age in Germany.
The Modern Age started to form up; Many of the picture postcards shown in the exhibition stem from the surroundings of large exhibitions as the "GeSoLei" (Gesundheit, soziale Fürsorge und Leibesübungen - health, social welfare and physical exercise) in 1926, with its 400.000m2 the largest exhibition of the Weimar Republic; the "Pressa" (International Press Exhibition) in 1928 in Cologne or the manifestation of the modern age par excellence; the exhibition "Die Wohnung" ("The Apartment") presented by the German Werkbund in the year 1927 in Stuttgart under the management of Mies van der Rohe.
With Walter Gropius' Bauhaus buildings at the latest, white started to be the colour of the architecture, what inevitably lead to the fact that the sky over the buildings had to be dark, deserted and photographed with a hard shadow and the sun in a low position under the dark grey or almost black sky. Lucia Moholys photographed views of the Bauhaus were already objective up to a certain simplicity, her own will to creativity completely disappears behind the reduced portrayal of the circumstances. Insofar the series of picture postcards about the Bauhaus in Dessau can be seen as the clearest manifestation of an ethically founded and morally sophisticated modern age in the 1920ties.
No warehouse chain adapted such a clear architectural concept for its houses as did the company Schocken, which in 1929 was the fifth largest warehouse chain in Germany, and after 1933 became the target of anti-Semitic riots and was sold in the same year. Through the smooth and often slightly curved facades of the houses, with window ribbons for daytime and light ribbons for the night, the architect Eric Mendelsohn created a definite corporate identity for the company within a few years only. Even if the warehouse has disappeared from the public mind its style still affects through its corporate identity.
If the picture postcards from Dessau where rather seen as a means of advertising than as greetings from the visitors, their function in the large housing developments was different; the inhabitants were proud of their modern way of housing, they informed friends and relatives of the respective move to a new house. The identification of the first generation of residents was enormously high, what especially disturbed conservative politicians, and later the national socialists. Therefore, especially today, the rather strange bleakness of the images without tree or bush is seen as a symbol of the new, liberated living as it primarily was intended by the protagonists.
Modern greetings where collected and sent by mail. Those indeed modern people of the beginning of the 20th Century used telephone and telegraphy, radio and cinema, fast trains or ships and the first planes. The real modern live was dedicated to speed, to bicycles and motorbikes, the daily newspapers and to the weekly illustrated, to multifaceted visual and other information. Modern greetings with picture postcards are in fact an anachronism, an old medium in a modern time. But even that did not prevent the postcard from its triumphal career that started as part of the pre-modern times. When modern architecture had made its way on the pictures, presenting mobility was not necessary anymore. It much more became part of a large project that has not come to an end even today.