ART BASEL AND OCEAN LINER AFICIONADO TOURS OF THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY AND A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE
After a flurry of VIP visitors and events associated with Art Basel 2013, the Wolfsonian library is just getting back to a more normal rhythm and routine. During our late night event on Friday, more than 175 guests took advantage of the opportunity to see the library exhibit, From Italy to the Americas: Italo Balbo’s 1930 and 1933 Seaplane Squadrons in the library foyer, and to enter our main reading room for an informal presentation of rare books spread out on the tables. Today’s blog post will provide a smaller sampling of those same materials, supplemented with some ocean liner materials pulled and displayed for a group of ocean liner enthusiasts who visited on Saturday.
Before entering the museum, our late night visitors were treated to the spectacle of moving projected images culled from the museum’s collection, seemingly breaking free and racing across the north and west façade of our vault-like edifice.
There are, of course, a number of “must-sees” that we trot out every year, including a couple of Italian Futurist masterpieces. The first item is Fortunato Depero’s “bolted book,” an artist’s monograph defying typographic conventions.
The second is Aeromusiche d’alfabeto in libertà, a mixed-media, “free word” musical score hand-decorated and published as an artistic collaboration of F. T. Marinetti (1876-1944), Tullio Crali (1910-2000), and Raoul Cenisi (1912-1991).
As we can always expect to entertain a decent number of repeat visitors each Art Basel season, in addition to our usual highlights I also put on display some less familiar items from the library still representative of our strengths. As international expositions constitute an important part of our holdings, I pulled a large format edition book published for the very first world’s fair, held in Hyde Park, London, England in 1851. It was intended to celebrate the industrial revolution and technologies that had transformed Great Britain into a great world empire. The head gardener at Chatsworth House, Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865), won the commission for his design of a grand pavilion with a superstructure of prefabricated cast iron beams supporting transparent walls and ceilings formed from standardized panes of plate-glass. The giant “greenhouse” exhibition space was a sensation and as a result of Paxton’s design, became popularly known as the “Crystal Palace” exhibition.
Also representing our holdings of Victorian England was Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament which highlighted historical and cultural decorative styles in 100 leaves of plates, drawn on stone by F. Bedford, and printed in color by Day and Sons in 1856. This item is in the process of being digitized cover-to-cover.
Another extremely rare item that proved popular with the women visitors is a book of Ladies’ Old-Fashioned Shoes with color illustrations from originals from the collection of T. Watson Grieg.
From our vast collection of Dutch Nieuwe Kunst book-binding and ephemera, I rummaged through the boxes containing hundreds of calendars and selected thirteen leaves of a calendar for the year 1896. This one is an excellent example of the Art Nouveau style, with ornate, nature-inspired designs by the graphic artist Theodoor Willem Nieuwenhuis (1866-1951).
More of the plates (and other Dutch materials in the collection) can be seen in an earlier blog post, Let’s Go Dutch.
The library also holds a number of important representative works reflecting the principles of the German design reform movement (ca. 1900-1914), including an oversized tome celebrating Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) just before the start of the First World War that forever tarnished his reputation.
For our Eastern European enthusiasts, we also included a monograph on the work of theatre costume designer, Anatolii Halaktionovych Petryts’kyi (1895-1964). The plates mounted in the book with Ukrainian and German captions show off Petryts’kyi’s Constructivist-inspired costumes for “Eccentric Dancers,” a Harlequin-type Grim Reaper, a Robot, and other characters of the early revolutionary stage that lost favor once Joseph Stalin imposed Socialist Realism on Soviet artists.
Visitors also admired the Far East costumes on display in a Taisho family photograph album pulled by our Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. The photographs include images from a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony held at the Hibiya Shrine on December 16, 1920, children dressed as Samurai, and others taken at various family outings and events.
THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION
As The Wolfsonian is renowned for its incredible collection of political propaganda, we also laid out some of those materials, including these illustrations from the Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung, a periodical with biting anti-fascist and anti-Nazi photomontage illustrations designed by John Heartfield (1891-1968). Born Helmut Herzfeld, this committed Communist Anglicized his name during the Great War (1914-1918) to protest anti-British war hysteria. In the postwar period he became an important contributor to the Dada movement, and produced powerful photomontage images for AIZ in Berlin. Seeing how the Nazis used staged photographs to “lie,” Heartfield committed himself to cutting and making creative photographic collages intended to expose his version of the “truth.”
THE SEEDS OF DEATH. WHERE THIS SOWER GOES THROUGH THE LAND, HE REAPS HUNGER, WAR, AND FIRE
DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: “THESE ARE THE ORGANIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE ETERNAL ‘HEIL HITLER”
Following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the S.S. stormed his Berlin apartment (from which he managed to elude his pursuers by jumping from the balcony, and crossing the Sudeten Mountains over to Prague. In Czechoslovakia, Heartfield resumed publishing until the looming prospect of Nazi invasion in 1938 again forced him to flee, this time to England where he was temporarily interned as an enemy alien. After the war he returned to Berlin in East Germany.
The morning after the Basel tours, I quickly reshelved these and other materials in order to lay out another display for a group of visiting ocean liner enthusiasts and collectors. The guest list included maritime artist Stephen Card, Australian liner collector and diver Stanley Haviland, another collector from Key West, Daniel Lotten, former head of the Steamship Historical Society of America (SSHSA) in South Florida Jeff Macklin, the head of International Marketing for Prestige Holdings (Regent & Oceania), the owner of Uncommon Journeys travel agency in San Francisco Christopher Kyte, and Jim Lida.
The gathering had been organized by Thomas Cassidy, Laurence Miller, and Thomas Ragan—the latter two having donated substantial collections of books and promotional materials to our institution.
This special group of aficionados had the opportunity to look over rare books, photograph albums, deck plans, advertising brochures, menus, postcards, and other ephemera documenting passenger ship travel across the seven seas from the interwar period on into the present.
Some of our guests were happy to be able to flip through the pages of a beautifully illustrated promotional booklet, A. K. Macdonald’s My Cunard Trip published sometime in the 1920s.
One of the more beautiful items was a brochure printed for N.Y.K. Line’s Asama Maru, with a simple and elegant cover and die-cut cutaways inside exposing the layers of the ship.
Other of the visitors were impressed by the silver foil cover of a book about the great Art Deco liner, the Normandie.
The guests were far more knowledgeable than I about the history of steamship companies and specific ships, and during their visit I learned, for example about the fate of the Patria.
Launched in 1938, the Patria (3) was one of the last large passenger steamships built for the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG). The ship sported two masts, a single funnel, and could accommodate 185 first-class and 184 third-class passengers on its voyages to the West Coast of South America.
During the Second World War, the Patria was converted into a German Navy barracks ship, and in July 1945 was handed over to the British and, as the Empire Welland, it served as a troop ship in Belfast. In February of 1946, the vessel’s ownership was transferred to Soviet state shipping company ship, which renamed it the Rossia. During its last year of service, it was renamed the Aniva before meeting its fate with the wreckers in Pakistan in 1985.
The guests also had the chance to browse through a rare photograph album documenting the service of several Italian liners, such as the Giulio Cesare, the Saturnia, and the Duilio, as hospital ships dispatched on a mission to rescue and repatriate Italian refugees stranded in East Africa during the Second World War.
It was humbling to see how easily the guests immediately identified the various ships from their silhouettes, as well as how much information they could impart about each vessel.
There was also some interest in a recent promised gift on loan to us from Mitchel Wolfson, Jr. showcasing the designs of George G. Sharp, a naval architect who devised plans for converting troop transports back into cargo and passenger ships in the post-WWII period.
PROMISED GIFT OF MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.
But without question, the highlight of the visit for the guests was the opportunity to enter the back stacks of the library for a behind-the-scenes tour of Dr. Laurence Miller’s nearly comprehensive collection of cruise ship promotional materials covering the 1950s through the 2000s. Dr. Miller was on hand to open boxes and share his collection.
Days after the Basel revelries came to an end, the museum’s collections acquisition committee (of which I am a member) visited with founder Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. and reviewed and recommended the inclusion of many more items he collected into a promised gift agreement he has worked out with FIU. So you, my readers, are the first VIPs to get a sneak peek at the wealth of the new acquisitions soon to be accessioned as promised gifts to build on general strengths and to fill in gaps in our museum collection.
Being a bit of a movie buff, I was immediately drawn to a Dutch-language anti-Communist propaganda poster. It appeared to me that the image of “red” soldiers descending in lockstep towards a dead woman and her baby in an overturned carriage must have been drawn in direct response to one of the most famous scenes of the Communist propaganda film, Battleship Potemkin (1925). In the film’s climatic scene, director Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) masterfully spliced and edited a montage of images to depict Czarist Cossacks marching against and firing on peaceful demonstrators, culminating in the killing of a mother and the plummeting of her baby in a carriage down the “Odessa Steps.”
Another item we saw is a perfect complement to the poetry and watercolor pochoir print by Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) and Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) in their collaborative art piece, La Prose du Transsibérien et de La Petite Jehanne de France, a work soon to be exhibited in the Frost Art Museum’s Teaching Gallery.
The Delaunay masterpiece can now be matched with an almost equally long pictorial rendering of La Voie Transsibérienne recently purchased by Mr. Wolfson.
Other items in the promised gift pipeline include rare books, periodicals, and ephemera that might wind up in exhibitions scheduled for 2014 to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.