Art Catch: Wendingen: A Journal for the Arts, 1918-1932

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10/28/2008 11:00 AM |

In her weekly online column “Art Catch,” The L’s Patricia Milder tells you which exhibits and dance shows are worth visually stalking. And which ones are simply not.

The Peter Blum Gallery is not necessarily known for exhibiting historical works, but following the Francisco de Goya exhibit this summer is another seemingly off-beat choice in their smaller Soho space: a complete set of the early 20th century Dutch arts journal Wendingen. While the choice to show Goya’s series The Disasters of War can be seen as a timely political statement, Wendingen rings a bit of nostalgia, and not exclusively because Blum grew up in the Netherlands. Taking a good look at the detail, craftsmanship, and unique design decisions of the long defunct journal is enough to awe (at least a little bit) any current day magazine consumer.

Immediately notable about the design — and in part the reason this journal had such a difficult time getting a printer on board in the beginning — is the square format, which is modeled after the size and shape of a Japanese Tatami mat. The references to Eastern design don’t stop there, but the Tatami mat in particular, which is not only flooring but also the standard single unit in traditional Japanese architecture, was meaningful to the Architect founders of Wendingen. Organized by the Amsterdam art society Architectura et Amiticia and edited by the architect Hendricus Theodorus Wijdeveld until 1925, Wendingen‘s issues were often focused on the progressive Amsterdam school of architecture.

By surveying all 116 issues front and back, it becomes quite clear that
there was absolutely no attempt at consistency between cover designs
from month to month. Each month a contemporary artist would design the
cover, including the magazine’s title in whichever typeface suited his
overall style, therefore completely ignoring the now indispensable idea
of the logo. Popular design styles included New Kunst, the Dutch
variety of Art Nouveau, more angular than the also present curving
French version, as well as Symbolist and abstract forms. The iconic El
Lissitzky issue is actually as much of a hiccup in the overall look of
the issues as any: though there was no overall consistency in design,
there is still noticeably only one truly Constructionist cover.

Although each issue was themed — for example dedicated to Russian
icons, Hindu sculpture, aerial photography, Diego Rivera, Frank Lloyd
Wright (seven issues), dance and so on — the cover design did not
necessarily reflect what was inside the magazine. The Gustav Klimt
issue does incorporate gold paint into the cover design but the
references to the artist stop there, even though the entire issue is
one long article about his work. The result of this freedom is a
collection of limited edition (650 issue run in the beginning)
lithographs and woodcut prints that are hand bound with raffia: each
copy itself a distinct work of art (and priced accordingly).

Having the opportunity to view each issue in succession creates a
visual history of Wendingen where clues to design and political
concerns as well as business issues pop up through patterning. For
example, during the first year of publication (1918) the journal had
advertisements on its back cover for a Dutch cement company. By the end
of this year, however, there was a consensus among the board of
directors that they would only run small ads on the inside on the last
pages, so for the first two issues of the following year the back
covers are completely empty. Eventually, the artists who were creating
the covers began to bleed their designs around back, or even design
separate works for the second available space.
Wendingen was surely elitist, expensive, and not very successful in
German or English markets, but the innovations in design and the pains
taken in printing — including accordion binding and hard cover "deluxe"
options — as well as the results of artistic freedom matched with
quality production are worth a first hand look. The show stands as an
argument for the longevity of limited editions and uncompromising
craft.

Wendingen: A Journal for the Arts, 1918-1932
Peter Blum Gallery, 99 Wooster St.
Closes November 1